Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mr. Pearson and Ms Zukerman, separately, on euthanasia


Two interesting articles appeared in last weekend’s The Weekend Australian, one by Mr. Christopher Pearson in the Inquirer section, the other by Ms Wendy Zukerman in the Health section. Both the articles shed a bit more light on the staggering finding, mentioned by me in a recent comment at this blog, that something like 85% of Australians support euthanasia. Ms Zukerman writes that

Euthanasia isn't legal under Australian law but is supported by most Australians. Last week, for instance, a Newspoll of 1201 Australians found 85 per cent approved of a doctor providing a lethal dose to a suffering patient with no chance of recovering, after the patient requested the dose.
Mr. Pearson provides more detail, quoting the text of the question put to survey respondents:

The South Australian bill's advocates often cite in its defence what they call overwhelming popular support. They point to a Newspoll that asked respondents: "Thinking now about voluntary euthanasia, if a hopelessly ill patient experiencing unrelievable suffering with absolutely no chance of recovery asks for a lethal dose, should a doctor be allowed to provide a dose or not?" Given the loaded way the question was framed it comes as no surprise that statewide 87 per cent said yes and only 6 per cent said no.
But loaded or not, the question asks the respondent whether or not he or she support the formal, rather than merely material, killing of innocent persons, so the survey’s finding can only excite deep pessimism in euthanasia opponents, myself among them. Nevertheless, there is value in Mr. Pearson’s subsequent suggestions for probing more deeply into Australian attitudes towards euthanasia:

It would be timely for one of the churches or pro-life groups to commission a more sophisticated opinion survey on the subject. Respondents should be informed in non-emotive language about the law and practice in various jurisdictions and invited to specify the range of circumstances in which they'd support lethal interventions, voluntary and involuntary; whether it should be restricted to the aged or the dying, or to any adult; whether it should be available for young people under 18 and, if so, with or without parental consent.

Euthanasia may not lose majority support in such an exercise but I doubt that the results would amount to a ringing endorsement.
Ms Zukerman goes on to report in her article on recent developments in South Australia, to which Mr. Pearson referred:

Meanwhile, South Australian independent MP Bob Such has introducted a similar [euthanasia] bill into the lower house that's yets to have its second reading, but a bill introduced by his Greens counterpart in the upper house, Mark Parnell, last week narrowly passed its second reading and is scheduled for a third reading on November 18. However, the Bill may not be read in the Lower House until the aafter the SA elections next March.

"This bill is bringing into light that things are happening in the dark," says Parnell. According to him, each week four elderly Australians kill themselves by violent and undignified means.

Under the bill, SA doctors would be allowed to administer drugs to end the life of an eligible individual. "The person must be an adult in the terminal phase of a terminal illness or have an illness that results in permanent deprivation of consciousness or irreversibly impairs the person's quality of life so that life has become intolerable," explains Parnell.
Interesting word, ‘intolerable’. Mr. Pearson has more on this:

As Bernard Finnigan, a Labor MLC, put it : "Under this legislation you do not have to have a terminal illness to obtain active voluntary euthanasia or a prescription for a lethal dose. Clause 19 provides `(1) This section applies to the following persons, (b) an adult person who has an injury, illness or medical condition that (ii) irreversibly impairs the person's quality of life so that life becomes intolerable to that person.' That is not a definition that provides a tight restriction on who can access voluntary euthanasia. That definition could apply to someone suffering from chronic depression or rheumatoid arthritis or the early stages of multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's."
It’s hard to see how a more subjective formulation than “intolerable to that person” could possibly be conceivable. At least it’s good to see euthanasia advocates (not Mr. Finnigan I’ll point out, just so that there’s no confusion) being perfectly explicit about what they stand for, though.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Andrew Avelino, Confessor, A.D. 2009

1 comment:

Louise said...

Interesting word, ‘intolerable’.

Indeed. I thought we were supposed to be a tolerant society?