Euthanasia – the bigger picture

Media generated discussions about euthanasia and assisted suicide are often initiated by the story of tragic individual cases. The rhetoric used invariably focuses on 'choice' and the so-called 'right' a person has to choose how and when they die. But this argument fails to recognise that people do not make their 'choices' in a vacuum, that such decisions inevitably involve and concern other people, not least the medical professionals and others who care for them and for others. The following select quotes highlight some of the bigger picture issues associated with legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide.

"The pro-euthanasia lobby talks enthusiastically about 'autonomy' and 'choice'. The truth is that when euthanasia is legalised, personal autonomy and choice are dangerously compromised. Moreover, legalising euthanasia - like capital punishment - has the power to brutalise society." Professor David Richmond.

"The killing decision in euthanasia and assisted suicide isn't really the suicidal person's 'choice': It is the killer's or helper's. In other words, life will end only if the joint venturer in the killing believes the suicidal person's life is not worth living." Wesley J. Smith.

"I've recently had quite a bit to do with one rest home village and I've had a chance to get the feel of the elderly residents and I know for a fact that if you had a voluntary euthanasia regime, the whole tone of that rest home village would be greatly altered as people came to fear the suggestion that they think might be made to them that they should seek euthanasia, that their time has come, that they've lived a long life, that they're being a burden to others, a very expensive burden in some cases, and that they'd be better off dead." Don Mathieson QC.

"Few people would seriously consider legalizing friend- or family-assisted suicide. The inherent dangers of this type of private killing are much too obvious. So the goal is to lend this act professional respectability by promoting physician-assisted suicide—or, more accurately, medically assisted suicide, since nurses also are necessarily involved when the assisted suicide occurs in a health facility or home-health situation.
As a nurse, I am willing to do anything for my patients—but I will not kill them nor help them kill themselves. In my work with the terminally ill, I have been struck by how rarely such people say anything like, "I want to end my life." I have seen the few who do express such thoughts become visibly relieved when their concerns and fears are addressed, instead of finding support for the suicide option. I have yet to see such a patient go on to commit suicide." Nancy Valko.

"The phrase 'death with dignity' is very often used to mean the deliberately procured death of an ill or disabled person, and strongly implies that vulnerable people are 'dignified' only in death.
I strongly believe that the supposed 'right to die' is a subterfuge for what is really a 'duty to die' because society prefers not to provide appropriate support to help us to live with dignity, but prefers the cheaper option of killing. Alison Davis, Disability Activist.

"Disability rights opposition [to legalising euthanasia] is based in reality. While Compassion & Choices and its media friends push policy on the back of one photogenic person's 'choice', we look at the social impact on vulnerable populations. The media repeats the falsehood that there have been no abuses in Oregon, we present evidence that shows the opposite ... When the focus is on an individual, assisted suicide can sound good -- who's against compassion or relieving suffering? But a closer look reveals that assisted suicide puts vulnerable people in mortal danger. The more people learn about the real-world implications of these bills, the more they oppose them. (Our group takes its name -- Second Thoughts -- from this fact)." John B Kelly, Disability Activist

"[The pro-euthanasia] slogan is people should be allowed to die with dignity, which suggests that they don't. I've seen hundreds of people die... it's just part and parcel of your life as chaplain and I would say in the time that I've been chaplain, which is about 35 years, I don't think I can remember a case where people didn't die with dignity." Rev David Orange

"Do assisted suicide supporters really expect us doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on our ethics or our empathy? Do they realize that this reduces the second patient's will-to-live request to a mere personal whim—perhaps, ultimately, one that society will see as selfish and too costly? How does this serve optimal health care, let alone the integrity of doctors and nurses who have to face the fact that we helped other human beings kill themselves?" Nancy Valko.