WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

‘Assisted Suicide is Unnecessary and Dangerous’

WelCom October 2016:


Dr John Kleinsman

The Care Alliance, a coalition of medical, disability, advocacy and faith-based groups who are opposed to legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide, has appeared before the Health Select Committee Inquiry into Ending One’s Life.

Spokesperson Matthew Jansen told the committee the Care Alliance stance is a practical rather than theoretical one. ‘We know that not all deaths are good deaths: we have an acute understanding of and sympathy for the “hard cases” that are cited as reason for a law change. However, we argue that moving the bright line of prohibition on assisting suicide would create many more problems than it would ever solve. Apart from the intractable problems of consent and coercion, moving that bright line to some new position would merely create new “hard cases” on the boundary. You would not be solving a problem, you would merely be shifting it.’

On the question of choice Mr Jansen added, ‘We also know that choice is never an absolute value. Every law in some way limits our choices, because individual preferences must be balanced against their impact on other people and the environment.’

The Care Alliance position can be summarised as two-fold. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are unnecessary and dangerous.

It is unnecessary because, ‘physical pain can be well controlled these days. We acknowledge suffering cannot always be totally eliminated, because suffering is so complex, with so many different dimensions: psychological, social and existential, as well as physical. But palliative care is effective because it works to reduce the many forms of suffering of people with a terminal illness.

‘Can we, should we, do better? Yes, absolutely. What you should never do is throw up your hands and say it’s all too difficult – we can’t give you a perfect outcome, therefore we will give you a
lethal injection.’

Mr Jansen highlighted three key reasons why euthanasia and assisted suicide are dangerous:

‘First, it affirms people’s fears. Rather than listening to dying people’s fears and addressing them with actual knowledge and assistance, it says, ‘You’re right to be scared, it could be really dreadful.’ The single most important thing a person with a life-limiting diagnosis needs to hear is: get involved with palliative care straight away. The evidence is that early engagement with palliative care increases both the quality and quantity of life.’

The second element of dangerous is the idea the State should declare that some lives are not worth living. This idea lies at the very heart of any legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

‘Central to the claims for euthanasia and assisted suicide is a fear of coping with a functional limitation, a fear of depending on others. That is an attitude that is inherently diminishing of disabled people,’ said Mr Jansen, ‘and if the State says that such lives are not worth living, it will legitimise such attitudes throughout society. It will become a subtle but powerful form of coercion.’

The third aspect of dangerous Mr Jansen spoke about was suicide prevention. ‘We all know we have a serious problem with suicide in this country. And that it disproportionately affects young people, Māori and older men. We think it would be unconscionable for Parliament to give any suggestion to young people that suicide is a proper and approved response to suffering.

‘Some people argue it is possible to draw neat and narrow lines between types of legally approved and disapproved suffering, between “rational” and “irrational” suicide. That is an ivory tower fantasy.

‘What our young people need, and what our elderly and disabled people need, is to hear unreservedly that we will never give up on people who are suffering. Never.’