WelCom September 2018:
Fr James Lyons
In the ongoing debate surrounding our Parliament’s End of Life Choice Bill, there is a rising tide of rhetoric that threatens to swamp the deeper issues regarding the Bill’s purpose and motivation.
The purpose of the Bill is to enable a person with ‘terminal illness or a grievous and irremediable medical condition’ to choose to end her or his life. The motivation is to provide a means to end what is, in the sufferer’s declaration, ‘unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable.’
Those in favour make it a human rights issue. As the argument supporting abortion claims the right of a woman to do what she wants with her own body, so a person whose ability to live well is hampered by an incurable illness and intolerable suffering, should have the right to do away with their personal life.
Those against the Bill, bring the ‘no person is an island’ concept to argue that all life is connected, that no one is totally independent, that no ‘right’ is exclusive.
These two positions are set against each other, seemingly irreconcilable.
We can’t hear one another above the shouting.
The first lesson for both sides to learn is respect – respect for one another, respect for the differences apparent in the arguments, respect for the fact that, while suffering of one kind or another is inevitable in our human and natural environment, no one enjoys to either witness or experience suffering.
I respect those who want to end their suffering or the suffering of others; I respect those who want to help them achieve their goal. And I respect those who appreciate the potential in suffering to bring the best out of people, to give and receive love in new, more vibrant ways, to heal relationships, to eliminate fear when facing the joint mystery of living and dying.
This is not a debate between good and evil. Everyone in the debate is motivated by the desire to alleviate suffering; at issue is the means by which this is achieved. To respect, is to acknowledge goodness on both sides.
The second lesson flows from the first: being honest. That is probably my biggest criticism of the Bill. It is not honest. It does not allow me to freely choose to end my life. I need permission before I can make that choice. I need to be judged as someone able to choose. The title of the Bill should be End of Life Permission Bill.
There is dishonesty in stating that I can be told that my life is likely to end within six months. Is there any medical practitioner who would dare make such a diagnosis? No one should be allowed to make an end of life choice based on an assumption or guess as to the length of life remaining.
There is dishonesty in speaking of ‘assisted dying’ when death occurs following a deliberately prescribed drug or other means to end life. Such an action kills.
There is dishonesty in not recording the death for what it really was, ‘assisted dying’ [see Clause 25]. Such deception sets a dangerous precedent.
We also need to be honest with ourselves by naming the elephant in the room for what it really is, a form of suicide – whether assisted or not. By doing this we will have to accept that what we have until now found abhorrent and anti-social – the taking of one’s own life – could be legitimised, and rethink our concern at the escalation of ‘youth suicide’ or suicide at any age.
Whether you are for or against this Bill, treat everyone involved in the debate with the utmost respect and be honest in your approach. Don’t let emotion rule your heart or your mind and consider carefully the implications of what you propose for the whole of our society.