Legalizing euthanasia would be like legalizing drunk driving
Over the weekend, former National Party leader Don Brash posted the following status update on his Facebook page:
“My daughter recently took her 19-year-old cat to the vet because it was wasting away and not eating or drinking. The vet advised that the cat was almost certainly terminally ill, and put the cat to sleep. That was regarded as the kind and humane thing to do.
Recently a very dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. She was in constant severe pain, and increasingly suffered from nausea. She wanted to die, and contemplated going to Switzerland to seek help in dying. When she was diagnosed with kidney failure, she welcomed that, because she knew it would shorten her life and end her suffering. She got excellent treatment in a hospice, and they were able to largely control the pain, though not the nausea.
But why do we regard it as humane to end the life of a sick animal, even though the animal has no ability to participate in the decision, but regard it as a crime to end the life of a terminally ill human being who, being in full possession of her mental faculties, desperately wants to die? Yes, there would have to be safeguards to avoid pressure from those who might benefit financially from somebody’s death, and to avoid those with temporary depression seeking help to end their lives. But the present situation is crazy.”
We’ll leave aside the glaring flaws in comparing animals to human persons and suggesting that the later should be treated no better than the former (there are actually very good reasons why KFC stands for ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ and NOT ‘Kentucky Fried Children’ Don), and the serious concerns we should have about anyone promoting suicide as a good thing.
Instead I want to focus on the “yes, there would have to be safeguards to avoid pressure from those who might benefit financially from somebody’s death, and to avoid those with temporary depression seeking help to end their lives” aspect of Brash’s declaration.
This is a common cry of pro-euthanasia supporters, who, in their zeal to normalize and legalize suicide, seem quite unwilling to face up to the reality of the serious harms associated with their cause, usually trying to gloss over these serious issues with flippant one-liners about ‘legal safeguards’.
But this is like suggesting that we could legalize drunk driving, and at the same time prevent all harm that such a change would result in by making sure we had appropriate ‘legal safeguards’ in place.
There’s no doubt that there’s probably certain individuals out there who believe that they should have the right to do whatever they want with their own lives, and that laws against driving drunk are a serious imposition upon their personal autonomy.
‘Of course, driving drunk isn’t for everybody’, they’d probably say, suggesting that it should be legislated in such a way as to only ever be a free choice, and never as something that is forced upon people against their will should they find themselves needing to travel from one place to another after a session of alcoholic over-indulgence.
There would also need to be appropriate legal safeguards in place to prevent people from driving while excessively drunk, and we’d definitely want a lower speed limit for drunk drivers, and probably rules about them only being allowed on less congested roads, etc.
And with all of this in place, it’s quite conceivable that some people would be able to drink and drive without ever hurting themselves, or doing harm to others (heck, men in my father’s generation regularly drove while over-the-limit and there’s plenty of them still around to tell the tale).
There’s just one rather glaring problem.
While some people might be able to drive drunk without it ever ending in catastrophe for others, our society rightly recognizes that the serious risks associated with drunk driving, and the social harms that would result from legalized drunk driving, coupled with the fact that there is simply no legitimate need to legalize drunk driving, is reason enough to maintain strict laws against it.
I would argue that the same is true of euthanasia.
The harms, and serious risks that would result from legalized euthanasia, coupled with the fact that there is no legitimate need for us to be terminating sick, elderly or disabled patients prior to natural death (we definitely have the technology and facilities to offer such persons a truly dignified existence, and final passing) is all the reason we need to maintain the strictest legal prohibitions against euthanasia.
Ultimately, legalized euthanasia represents a major failing on the part of any society which embarks down such a path, a failing which exposes the most vulnerable members of society (the elderly, disabled and infirm) to serious harm at the hands of the very institutions that are meant to exist for their good – the healthcare sector and the state.
No, legalized euthanasia is NOT a step forward, far from it.
It’s actually a massive stumble backwards (the kind where you end up lying on your back, winded, and trying to figure out exactly what just happened to you) to a less enlightened time, where, just like the Greek era prior to the embrace of Hippocratic medicine, the healthcare sector presented serious risks to patients, and there was absolutely no guarantee that the physician had healing or patient care on the agenda for you.