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