Fear of losing control driving pro-euthanasia bill

News Cecily McNeill30 May 2012 The pro-euthanasia lobby is being driven by a fear of losing control and a lack of awareness of the dangers of such legislation, according to…


Cecily McNeill
30 May 2012

The pro-euthanasia lobby is being driven by a fear of losing control and a lack of awareness of the dangers of such legislation, according to anti-euthanasia campaigner Paul Russell who says if Labour MP Maryan Street’s bill is introduced to Parliament, people will need to ‘pull out all stops’ to defeat it.

Paul Russell (left) who founded HOPE, a coalition of groups in Australia seeking to prevent the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide, says while there may seem to be a clamour for legalisation, very few people understand the issues.

He told a gathering at St Thomas More church in Wilton on May 8 that those in favour of legalisation work with some ‘cute sound bites’ but the anti-legalisation case cannot be put so simply.

Euthanasia is when one person, often a physician, directly and intentionally causes the death of another person by lethal injection or other means for reasons of mercy.

There is a great deal of confusion around euthanasia, says Russell. The claim that ‘doctors do it all the time’ is unfounded and usually arises out of a misunderstanding. If treatment is futile and withheld or withdrawn, that is not euthanasia. If the provision of pain relief has an unintended side effect of shortening a person’s life and the intent is not to kill but to relieve pain, that’s not euthanasia.’

Forms of euthanasia are legal in Oregon, Washington State, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium where research shows that the law has been abused. A study published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association (May 2010) found that 32 percent of euthanasia deaths by doctors in the Flanders region occurred without request or consent. A similar study which focused on nurses in the October 2010 issue of the British Medical Journal found that nearly half (47 percent) of euthanasia deaths in the same region of Belgium were not reported.

In Oregon a woman with cancer received doctor-assisted death. However, she had dementia, was found mentally incompetent by some doctors, and had a grown daughter described as ‘somewhat coercive’ in pushing her toward the lethal prescription.

Russell says these cases highlight that the legalisation of euthanasia leads to a loss of choice rather than an increase in choice as claimed by those calling for change. In some of these cases the reasons doctors gave were that it was too difficult to have the conversation with patients.
‘Choice is an illusion because in the end the choice remains with the doctor … but increasing palliative services will give people a real choice.’

Elder abuse
The legalisation of euthanasia will create new pathways for elder abuse says Russell. A recent report from Ireland shows a quarter of older people fell victim to financial abuse in 2011 with a fifth suffering neglect and 12 percent being physically attacked. At the same time we need to remember elder abuse is very much under-reported. People who are lonely and feel isolated don’t feel like complaining.’

This situation will grow as the baby-boomer generation starts to die generating the ‘largest wealth transfer’. There will be even more pressure on older people to ‘do the right thing’.
‘We cannot abandon the aged and the vulnerable to the kinds of pressures, explicit or subtle that state-sanctioned killing will visit on our society.’

Russell said it was important to have a good source of information and to discuss the issue freely with people.

Meanwhile Nathaniel Centre director John Kleinsman (right) says the question of whether people are personally in favour of, or against, euthanasia is the wrong one. ‘The crucial question is whether it can be implemented safely’. (The Nathaniel Report issue 36, April 2012).

For more information visit www.nathaniel.org.nz or phone (04) 499-2251.