Friday, June 28, 2013

Euthanasia: It's not about pain

Paul Russell
The following article was written by Paul Russell, the leader of HOPE Australia, and published on the HOPE Australia blog on June 26, 2013 under the title: It's not about pain.

By Paul Russell - June 26, 2013

Once euthanasia advocacy was mostly about people's pain at the end-of-life. Pain is really not the issue any longer, if it really ever was.

Palliative medicine has developed, in recent years to a point where virtually all pain can be dealt with. If any concern remains here, it's really more about ensuring that everyone has access to high quality services.

The arguments for euthanasia, these days, are seems more about fear of growing old or the fear of developing an age or illness related disability.

In the recent Al Jazeera documentary, three people who attended Dr Nitschke's Gold Coast event were asked about why they were there. Only one mentioned difficulties with developing illnesses.

One said that she was not scared of death, 'but living and not being able to do the things I want to do scares me!' she said. Another said, 'there's no way I'm going into a nursing home where I'm lying there like a vegetable - I'm not going to be a burden on my children.' 

The recent report on the operation of Washington's Death With Dignity Act echoes the same sort of thinking and shows clearly that pain is a lower-order concern, eclipsed increasingly by what we would normally consider to be 'general issues with aging'.

We hear these kind of sentiments frequently. Disability activists like Canadian Rhonda Weibe see this kind of thinking as a real threat to the very existence of people living with disabilities as do groups like Saving Downs from New Zealand.

These concerns cannot be dismissed. Those of us who do not live with disabilities cannot really walk in their shoes. Moreover, in a world where we now recognise that discrimination has both objective and subjective elements, we must learn to listen; to accept that, for many disabled people, the fear of becoming 'targets for euthanasia' is very real.

And really, what's wrong with growing old, anyway? As a society we are better prepared financially than at any earlier time in history. Yes, we know that ours is an aging population, but, at the same time, the science and cost-effectiveness of care continues to develop and, likewise medicine.

We've always known that we enter this world dependent on others and that, a small percentage of us will leave in a similar fashion and, just as parents experience (and embrace) the burden of child raising, the burden of caring for our elderly is, likewise, simply an opportunity to care and to love. In this context, at least, denying our families the opportunity to care in such circumstances is precisely the opposite of the self-less act that some claim.

Not that these kind of concerns aren't valid. They are - but delivering poison via a syringe is not the answer.

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