It appears that the party of death never sleeps. Already the Greens have introduced their pro-death bill into Australia’s Federal Parliament. The party’s leader, Bob Brown, argued that most Australians support voluntary euthanasia. But I suspect most Australians in fact may not have a clear understanding of just what the euthanasia agenda is all about.
They are certainly not getting the full story from the pro-death lobby. There are many misconceptions and myths out there that need to be dispelled. One is that this will in fact be entirely voluntary, with no pressure or coercion. But this is just wishful thinking.
The truth is the right to die implies a duty to kill. Let me explain. We live in a rights-mad culture. Everyone is demanding a right for this or that. But there are no rights without corresponding duties. An officially sanctioned right must be backed up by the legally enforced means to ensure those rights can be carried out. Thus if society goes down the path of legalised euthanasia, this right to die will lead to its necessary corollary, the duty to kill.
Indeed, once a society has said that its citizens have the right to die, it will be forced to provide the means to do so. If a state says there is a legal right to die, logically, anyone can bring suit to ensure that governments comply. Just as today society tells us a woman has a right to abort her own child, so it provides, via medical aid and tax-payer funding, the means to carry out this activity.
In fact, once legalised, it is possible that doctors may one day face lawsuits if they violate someone’s rights by not killing them. As commentator John Leo puts it: “Imagine doctors purchasing malpractice insurance that covers ‘denial of death’ suits. That day may not be far away.”
And as ethicist Leon Kass reminds us, the “vast majority of candidates who merit mercy killing cannot request it for themselves.” But we can count on the fact that the “lawyers and the doctors (and the cost-containers) will soon rectify this injustice. . . Why, it will be argued, should the comatose or the demented be denied the right to such a ‘dignified death’ or such a ‘treatment’ just because they cannot claim it for themselves?”
For all the talk about choice, about freedom to choose, about giving people options, the legal and social legitimisation for assisted suicide will effectively eliminate one option, namely, staying alive without having to justify one’s existence. With legalised euthanasia, the burden will be upon people to justify being alive – we will have to prove that we ought to be allowed to live.
Lest that sound too far out, consider the words spoken in 1984 by the then Colorado Governor Richard Lamm who said, “Elderly people who are terminally ill have a duty to die and get out of the way.” Or recall the comments made in Australia by the country’s then Australian Governor-General Bill Hayden who, thinking of his own advancement in years, spoke of “unproductive burdens” which we need to be “disencumbered” of via euthanasia.
But as Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) has noted, why is Bill Hayden as a senile, incoherent old man in a wheel chair (one day) any less of value and worth than Bill Hayden was as Governor-General? A society that allows such distinctions is one that has “simply forsaken the very principle of civilisation and crossed the threshold of barbarity”.
Moreover, would Hayden set up a test whereby we determine who is an unproductive burden? Will people be forced to give written evidence as to why they should be allowed to remain alive? After all, in a world of scarcity, such proposals are not all that far off. Indeed, some people are calling for such measures already.
Some people, concerned by what they see as a crisis in over-population, have called for a drastic reduction in population levels.
The tone of debate seems to be becoming increasingly shrill. Many formerly uncommitted public figures and organisations are now speaking out in favour of cutting population levels. In recent times, the Anglican Church of Australia has warned of “catastrophic” consequences of global overpopulation. Sir David Attenborough has pushed for lower population in his documentary: “How many people can live on planet Earth?”. And the previously non-aligned Australian businessman, Dick Smith, produced his own documentary, “Population Puzzle”. Smith commented “This is the most important issue I have ever undertaken in my life. I won’t rest until we have a proper plan in place that informs Australians just how many people we can sustainably support in this country.”
It is clear where such passionate “concern” can lead. In the past a number of Australian commentators have argued for draconian measures to cull population, with some claiming that Australia’s population it should be reduced to less than half its present level. Going back as far as the 1990s, the then Leader of the Australian Democrats John Coulter argued that no Australian family should have more than two children. One city councillor even argued that people who choose to have three children should be compulsorily sterilised and forced to pay the government $200 per fortnight.
It does not take much imagination to see that euthanasia will be enlisted to support such population-reduction goals.
Again, this is not far-fetched. In the past Australia’s Economic Planning Advisory Commission (EPAC) has discussed the rising costs of health care for the elderly and in one publication EPAC actually looked at the issue of euthanasia as one option in the whole discussion. There was no talk about alleviating suffering or being compassionate — the whole proposal centered on cost-cutting measures.
Indeed, it is estimated that around half of all health care dollars are spent on people in their last six months of life. Thus cost considerations are increasingly becoming a major part of the decision-making process. In a recent case of a brain-dead man on life support, a Monash University medical ethicist said that there would be a high cost involved in maintaining the man, so the economic factor would have to be considered in deciding his fate.
American human rights lawyer Wesley J. Smith drives this point home: “If assisted suicide were ever permitted to become a legitimate and legal part of medical practice, in the end it would be less about ‘choice’ than about profits in the health care system and cutting the costs of health care to government and families. The drugs for assisted suicide only cost about $35 to $40, while it might cost $35,000 to $40,000 (or more) to treat the patient properly. The math is compelling, and contains a warning we dare not ignore.”
In a culture where worth and value tends to be measured by the bottom line, the call for legalised euthanasia will likely also be assessed in those terms. Financial considerations will tend to trump other concerns, including the right to life. All the more reason to never allow euthanasia to be legalized.