Protection of vulnerable people should be at the heart of the euthanasia debate

Healthcare and palliative care specialists, politicians, academics and activists gathered for a public forum on euthanasia and assisted suicide organised by Otago University this week to debate the issue of legalising euthanasia.

“While we support debating the issue of Euthanasia until we fully debate all the surrounding issues of provision of palliative care, and resources and support for the severely disabled in our health system we cannot robustly and adequately look at all the issues and choices that people in these situations face,” said John Kleinsman Director of the Nathaniel Centre when he spoke at the forum.

“While there is much discussion about choices and the protection of people’s choices in order to provide people with a range of options or choices there needs to be much better provision and resourcing that give people the choice to live,”

“Alongside this we need honest and open discussion about the potential unintended consequences for society as a whole if we are to talk about legislating euthanasia. We should all be concerned about what it could mean for the severely disabled or terminally ill if euthanasia becomes an option, will a right to die become a duty to die?”

“It is often argued by those advocating to legalise euthanasia that it will not impact on the choices of those who do not want to end their life. They remain free to make that choice. On the other hand, the prohibition of euthanasia unfairly prevents some (albeit a small minority) from exercising their personal choice. However, the reality is that we don't make our choices in isolation; our so-called ‘free’ choices are constrained by factors beyond our control,”

“There is the very real danger that people who feel neglected and undervalued will see themselves as a burden and will want to do the ‘right"’ thing, especially when there are growing economic pressures on providing health and other forms of care for the aged. The ‘right to die’ will quickly become a ‘duty’ to die,”
“No euthanasia legislation can effectively protect against the misuse that would arise. This issue is about the protection of those most vulnerable at a time in their life when they most deserve to feel safe, valued and cared for,”

“While protections and safeguards may be promised by those proposing legislation, there is no law that can adequately protect against this no matter how much we want to offer such protection. The very act of legalising euthanasia will remove the most effective protection against abuses because the message it would send would be that human life can be traded against other things,”

“We cannot even contemplate creating a legal ‘right to die’ for some when it means many more will lose their right or will to live.”

* John Kleinsman is the director of the Nathaniel Centre, the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre