Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Paul Russell: A statement we should all fear.

The article was published on the HOPE Australia website on March 4, 2015.

By Paul Russell 
The director of HOPE Australia and Vice Chair - EPC International

The theory and the practice of euthanasia simply don’t match and the rhetoric and reality are miles apart.

Dutch activist Dr Rob Jonquiere, head of the world body pressing for euthanasia, is in New Zealand peddling euthanasia up and down the country.

He has said some outrageous things, some of which I tackle below. But the most outrageous statement, one that we should all fear, he gave recently to the New Zealand media:
"Sometimes the only way to terminate the suffering is to take away the life."
‘What’s so outrageous about that?’ you may ask. Well, perhaps those who are used to hearing pro-euthanasia peddlers talking about people dying in pain might not notice immediately. But Jonquiere is not talking about pain, he’s talking about suffering. There’s a significant difference; one that should ring alarm bells.
You see, there’s been a noticeable chameleon-like shift in the rhetoric of the pro-euthanasia peddlers’ observable over many years now. First it was, ‘but people are dying in pain’. Then, when it was clearly shown that good palliative medicine was the answer in the vast majority of cases, the rhetoric changed to ‘but not everyone’s pain can be managed’. Now, at a time when palliative care experts like Australia’s Dr Paul Dunne say that all pain can be managed, the rhetoric changes again to one of ‘suffering’.

But this is much, much more than what it appears to be; more than simply a change of tactics and marketing. It actually betrays a reality that, until recently, was masked by their marshmallow soft manipulation of the idea of compassion in the debate.

Along with this shift to the term ‘suffering’ as opposed to pain comes a shift to talking about relieving ‘existential suffering’. This kind of suffering is very real. Anxiety, fear of the unknown, worry about things left unfinished, relationships left unmended etc. This is something that good medical palliative practice helps remedy every day. Death is a rather brutal and unnecessary remedy for this kind of suffering.

This elimination of suffering, as I mentioned earlier, is much more than simply the new pro-death mantra. In Belgium a little over 12 months ago I heard a pro-euthanasia academic thump the table in his obvious zeal for the elimination of all suffering to the point where, in response to an interjection, he pointed an accusatory finger at a man in the front row and thundered, “You wait until you are paralysed!” This is an entirely subjective view that takes no account of the fact that many ‘paralysed people’ live their lives well; possibly with suffering, but certainly not wanting the kind of elimination these people clearly want for them. It also displays a chronic lack of empathy: How could anyone who is paralysed possibly want to live?

You see, it is not about wanting the best for the individual and resolving that death is the best outcome for them. That would be bad enough. It is more akin to wanting to eliminate from society any visible reminder of the frailty of human nature. We all suffer, right? It is treating suffering like a disease, a pandemic that threatens their view of humanity. It is essentially eugenic in nature.

This subtle yet very real undercurrent is made clear by the closing phrase of Jonquiere’s macabre sentence: ‘to take away the life’.

Here, at the very least, he confirms what we have always said, that the decision in euthanasia is the doctor’s – the ‘choice’ is his or hers. He or she will decide whether or not your life is worth living. This is a plan for eliminating all suffering by eliminating the sufferer. Gone! Done with! Next?

So, the subtle and sometimes subversive language of ‘patient choice’ is and always was just that, a veneer. 'Take away'? Really?

Contrast this naked assertion with the catch phrases, ‘dying with dignity’, ‘assisted dying’, ‘assistance in dying’ etc. and we can see clearly that these clever little perversions in the language are simply hollow rhetoric. ‘Take away’ in this context is violence. No matter how it is packaged, no matter how it is delivered, it’s always violence.

To ‘take away’ a life doesn’t suggest at all that we’re talking about something that is entirely voluntary, does it? In a regime where a doctor can ‘take away’ your life to eliminate suffering, consent seems more like a disposable formality than a prerequisite.

In the same article Jonquiere then makes this unbelievable statement: 
"At least for the Netherlands, if you do not ask for euthanasia, you do not get it." 
I cannot believe that Jonquiere is ignorant of the research. This is simply not true. A paper published in the Lancet in 2012 and based on studies of the Dutch data up to 2010 showed that in over 300 reported cases that year there was no evidence of request or consent and that in 23% of euthanasia deaths no report was ever completed. Moreover, the use of continuous deep sedation accompanied with dehydration and starvation to deliberately bring about death in the Netherlands not only masks the true level of deliberate killing but this kind of sedation does not require consent at all.

By saying: ‘At least for the Netherlands,’ I take it to mean that Jonquiere is well aware that the Belgium data (as he should be for Holland) concerning the absence of request or consent, is far more damning than in his homeland. Cold comfort for those lives lost.

The same New Zealand article gave prominence to the newly created disability organisation Not Dead Yet Aotearoa (New Zealand) quoting convenor, Wendi Wicks: "There are endless ways of telling disabled people time and time again that their life has no value."

In response Jonquiere effectively dismisses Wicks’ concerns out-of-hand, saying that ‘he did not know why disabled people had come out so strongly against the legislation.’ Clearly the opinion of people living with disability has no value either. Empathy seems in short supply.

Gerbert van Loenen explains in his book: Do You Call this a Life? Blurred Boundaries in the Netherlands’ Right-to-Die Laws something about why people living with disabilities in The Netherlands (and Belgium) have not reacted similarly to Wicks. In summary, disabled people in both countries have, as the prerequisite for entry and membership into their respective societies, the need to be able to ‘make something of themselves’; to achieve. ‘What does not become something, is nothing’ is how one academic put it. When this is all boiled down, it is about valuing people in a subjective fashion and a failure to recognise intrinsic human dignity. ‘If you can become like us – you’re in. If not…’

I urge New Zealanders to think carefully about this issue. While it might sound plausible, the theory and the practice of euthanasia simply don’t match and the rhetoric and reality are miles apart.

Paul Russell is director of the Australia-based organisation: HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide. and is Vice Chair of EPC - International

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