Matt Vickers is a bit of a hypocrite

On the subject of assisted dying, I have a strong opinion based on watching cancer steal my mother from me over an extended period of dreadful, painful and undignified time.

Last week a young Belgian man aged 17 elected to be assisted to die under Belgium’s assisted dying laws, which have recently been widened to be available to minors. Few details of his circumstances have been released, out of respect for his privacy and that of his family.

What we do know is that he was incurable, and had extreme physical suffering. So extreme that he sought to take the drastic step of ending his life. We don’t know whether his condition was terminal.

What I have been able to determine through various news reports is that he was euthanised through palliative sedation. Palliative sedation is the practice of administering sleep-inducing medication until the patient is in a drug-induced coma.

The coma lasts until the patient dies.

Palliative sedation is legal in New Zealand by virtue of it being in a legal grey area, and is often used when a patient is not responsive to pain management. The patient is put into a permanent sleep state until they starve to death, in order to spare them the worst of their suffering.

It is quite possible this young man would have experienced the same outcome under existing New Zealand law, if he was indeed approaching death. It’s a form of legal euthanasia and is regarded as ethical by the New Zealand Medical Association.

Less than 24 hours after the young man’s tragic early death was reported, Matthew Jansen of the Care Alliance challenged pro-assisted dying campaigners in New Zealand to respond to the case. Do we support the euthanasia of minors, like this young man? Are we that morally bankrupt, he implies?

Jansen misses the point. What is morally wrong is to exploit the slim details of a case like this – where there is more that we don’t know than what we do – to try to further his cause.

We can assume that this was incredibly difficult decision, for the young man, for his family, and for the doctor. No well person wants to die, and no good doctor wants to help another human being to die if there is any realistic hope of recovery.

What is so frustrating about the anti-euthanasia lobby is that they are so fond of exploiting basic sensational facts – 17 years old, Belgian, reportedly euthanised – with no knowledge of the circumstances that led to that decision, and a complete lack of compassion and respect for the individual and family involved, who no doubt supported the heart-wrenching choice after some long, intense and tough discussions.

I’m sorry to say that Matt wants an non-level playing field here.  He is allowed to politicise and use his wife’s (Lucretia Seales) death, but those who disagree with medically supervised assisted death being immoral – no matter the circumstances – aren’t allowed to use such examples unless they know everything about it.

Matt assumes there is some kind of continuum of morality and depending on the amount of information and the circumstances, people are allowed to express an opinion.  Or not.

Although I am a proponent of assisted suicide in general, I have to pull Matt up here.  People who are against it have a very comfortable position.   It is absolute.  They don’t have to “inform themselves”, or know the background in detail.  They simply consider the taking of a life at the hand of another human being to be morally wrong.  There is exactly 0% wiggle room there.

It’s in fact Matt that needs all the information possible to find a comfortable spot on his continuum where he can decide what is a moral death and what is not.

He’ll do better if he doesn’t try to vilify people who have a genuine and very well grounded belief system.  They require respect also.


– Matt Vickers, NZ Herald


  • jaundiced

    I may be reading this wrong, but I think Matt Vickers is saying its not possible to expect them have a view on ‘euthanasia of minors’ based on this case. You need to have the details and context of each case, which they don’t have here.

  • Mick Ie

    In other words, this young man was of sound mind within in a body that was not, but as he was not an adult, he was perceived to be too young to die and therefore should have continued to suffer until he was of legal age?
    Male Cow Faeces.

    • So if a 3 year old with intractable leukemia tells me he wants to die, I must accede to his wishes? His parents have no say in this?

      • Mick Ie

        A 3 year olds understanding and comprehension can never be compared to a 17 year old, and we do not know that the background story: it is possible the 17 year old had the love, understanding and support of his parents when he made the decision to end his pain.

        • Indeed. I make the point with the 3 yo because the problem with moving the age at which you are able to make this type of decision is where do you place the line. Is 12 yo ok? 8? What if it is a request from the parents?

          The problem with most of the euthanasia debate amongst public forums like this, is that it centers around a cited case like this one. We forget that, while this particular case may be a reasonable thing (and the fact that it was deemed legal suggests this), there are ramifications well outside of the case that are deeply troubling and intractably difficult.

  • John

    It doesn’t really matter how the people who are against it arrive at their decision or how convinced they are, they are trying to impose their moral values on someone else’s life, which is repugnant. Whether they are for it or against it is irrelevant, it’s none of their business.

    • Yet you seem to be perfectly happy to request doctors to assist with a person’s suicide. This means it IS my business and you would like to subject me to YOUR moral values.

      • John

        You correctly use the word “request”. Nobody is forcing the doctor to do anything. If they don’t agree with it then another doctor can replace them.

        • And they would be obliged to refer their patient to that Doctor, thereby forcing them to violate their beliefs. This is how it works with abortion. I’m certain this will be how it will work with euthanasia.

          • John

            Well if their sensitivities are so pathetically precious that they can’t bring themselves to do a basic part of their job like referring them to another practitioner who might have a different opinion on treatment to them then they probably should have joined the priesthood rather than the medical profession.

          • Your lack of understanding in this matter is noted.

  • The point of palliative care is to make a terminal patient as comfortable and as dignified as possible during their last hours. It is quite common to get to the edge where adequate pain control meets fatal respiratory depression and keep on going. After all, one is not trying to preserve life here, one is trying to control pain.

    This is a far cry from active euthanasia, where a patient actively seeks to die while still relatively sound of body. This active circumvention of the dying process is very hard on the grieving process of the love ones who remain and potentially can shorten the amount of good quality life remaining to the patient – doctors frequently get their prognoses of length of life and quality of life completely wrong.