State-Sanctioned Suicide

Alex Greenwich, an independent MP in Sydney, is currently championing a Bill for state-sanctioned suicide in the NSW parliament. To introduce such legislation at the height of a world-wide pandemic in which the elderly are the most at risk, is stunning. Such is the moral dissonance that we are currently living through.

Those who argue for doctor-assisted self-murder do so on the grounds of dignity and compassion. Ironically, the reality is anything but the case. In his book, Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization, Kevin Yuill states:

Those who advocate allowing assisted suicide do so not out of compassion for the actual dying but out of fear that they might meet the same fate…Self-pity motivates campaigners to call for a change in the law, and not for an increase in compassionate acts by caring individuals – the real meaning of compassion.

Let me outline four ‘compassionate’ reasons, then, as to why the door should remain firmly shut on doctor-assisted suicide.

Whom Do You Trust?

The trust between doctor and patient is paramount. However, opening the door to euthanasia means that this relationship is fundamentally undermined, especially when people are at their most vulnerable. A profound shift in mindset takes place when a doctor goes from being a ‘healer’ to an ‘executioner.’  As Dr Michael Gannon, President of the Australian Medical Association, has written recently: “Doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life”.

Ethicist, Dr Scott Rae, was speaking at a medical conference when a physician said to him: “If the patient tells me to keep going, but the family member tells me to stop, I am going to stop because the patient is going to die and the family member is still going to be around to sue me.” Rae immediately responded: “I am so glad you’re not my physician, because now I know I couldn’t trust you.”

The Vulnerability of Mental Health.

Tragically, 2,400 Australians commit suicide each year with 90% of those suffering from a mental illness, usually depression. The rates of depression are, according to Beyond Blue, “four times higher among people with chronic pain and almost one in three Australian adults with severe pain have higher or very high levels of psychological distress.” Seeing that a person who is suffering from a terminal illness is almost certainly going to be suffering from a mental illness, most likely depression, how can he or she be considered to be in a “sound mind,” especially in deciding end-of-life issues?

There’s Nothing Cheaper than Being Dead!

One particular aspect that needs to be addressed in this whole debate is the insidious influence of greed both at a state level and also at a more personal one.  As far as the state is concerned, we face a looming problem as a society with an ageing population and a low natural birth rate. What this means is that at some point in the future the capacity of the state to pay for so many people in care will be exhausted. As many health insurance companies know only too well, there is nothing cheaper than being dead.

On a more personal level, there will also be pressure on older Australians to end their lives. According to a recent survey of 1,000 Australians commissioned by Slater and Gordon, 26% of Gen Ys said that they would need to rely on an inheritance to pay off their mortgage. Unfortunately, most of us have seen how quickly relationships can sour when it comes to money. But what does the prospect of potentially receiving a large financial windfall do to the relationship with one’s own mum or dad? In our better moments, absolutely nothing, but in those darker times…well, there’s no limit to what the human heart can conceive, is there?

Your Life is Not your Own

At the end of the day (or I should say, “our days”) the life we have been given is a gift, not a right. It is not ours to dispose of in any way we wish. The question then is not so much about dying with ‘dignity’ as it is with being humble enough to receive the love and support of those around us. Or ultimately, acknowledging that there is One who is greater than us and that we are not in control. As it says in the Bible: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

 In the end, state-sanctioned suicide is a not just a religious issue, but a human one. As the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has stated:

The concerns I express are shared by people of any religion or no religion. In public life, it is the principles that matter. They define the norms and values of a society and in this case the principles concern our view of human life itself. It is a mistake for legislators to act on the deeply held emotional concerns of many when that involves crossing a threshold that will affect the entire society in perpetuity.

– Mark Powell (Minister of Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church)