You wouldn’t do it to a dog

Freedom of speech seems to be a fickle, selective beast. We must apparently defend Andrew Bolt’s right to make hateful, racist comments, yet I have so far waited in vain to hear freedom of speech loudly championed in the context of pro-euthanasia ads in Australia. They have been banned amid feeble protestations about encouraging suicide – which can only have come from people who have not seen the ads in question.

Far from encouraging suicide, the ads merely state the case for law reform with respect to euthanasia. Apparently this is a shocking, subversive, and unconscionable act – to the extent that the ads must be suppressed. While I accept that there are many issues to be debated around any law in favour of euthanasia, and a host of valid concerns, suppressing the conversation can only harm our society. The fact is that palliative care is not always sufficient. The fact is that people are dying, every day, in horrible, traumatic, undignified, appalling ways. If we sat back and watched our pets die this way we would be justly condemned.

Fear and ignorance make us into our own worst enemies, and the only solution to ignorance is education. Debate. Open discussion. A public tabling of facts. Let’s discuss the issues. As an excellent starting point, I recommend Peter Singer’s “Rethinking Life and Death”. It contains numerous examples of cases where life and death are not the clear, rationally delineated concepts that our emotions (and religions) would have us believe. It also succinctly and effectively debunks the “slippery slope” argument that seems to be the basis of much of the terror that surrounds euthanasia laws.

There are a few progressive places in the world, such as Oregon in the USA, and Belgium, where dying with dignity laws have been in place for some time. It would be nice to see a reasoned, rational debate of the issues, where the outcomes in those places are examined. Instead, in the few public debates that have been had (which have been so widely reported that one might think they had taken place in the cellar of a monastery under a vow of silence), the focus seems to have been on fear and religion.

I don’t know what I would choose to do, were I terminally ill. I hope that I would fight to the last. But if there came a point where the battle was clearly lost, and I could save my loved ones the everlasting psychological scarring of watching my drawn-out suffering, I want the choice. I want to be able to say “I’ve had enough. This far, and no further.”

The issue, as I see it, is actually straightforward. There are diseases that cause horrendous, intensely traumatic and sometimes protracted deaths. These are an unconscionable torture for both the patient and the loved ones who must watch (to say nothing of the health professionals involved). We have the power to make those deaths vastly easier.

Certainly it is difficult. There are risks, and complications. It won’t be easy to craft the perfect legislation. But it can be done – it has been done elsewhere. And can you look into the eyes of someone suffering unimaginable pain and distress and say “I could help you. But it’s a bit too hard.” I know I can’t.

You can join an eRally in support of Dying with Dignity laws, or simply find out more about the issue.

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