NRL News

Legalizing assisted suicide is to “cross the Rubicon”

by | Oct 26, 2017

Former Australian PM writes passionate essay in opposition

By Dave Andrusko

Former prime minister Paul Keating.
Photo: Nic Walker

Sometimes it seems as if the assisted-suicide plague is spreading like an airborne disease. In large part because of a broad-based coalition, those who oppose assisted suicide in the United States have been largely successful in fending off the initiatives of absurdly named “Compassion & Choices.”

But we are not, and could never be, over-confident. We know we must be vigilant. Compassion & Choices is nothing if not richly funded and utterly determined.

Elsewhere the assisted suicide movement has enjoyed many more victories, particularly in Canada and in the Benelux countries–Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. They are aggressively pushing assisted suicide legislation in various states in Australia, including Victoria and New South Wales.

A powerful opponent voiced his opposition to legislation in Victoria in a recent opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The headline to former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating’s essay is exquisite: “Voluntary euthanasia [assisted suicide] is a threshold moment for Australia, and one we should not cross.”

It’s a long piece, but well worth not only reading, but also pondering its insights. Here are just some.

#1. “This is a threshold moment for the country. No matter what justifications are offered for the bill, it constitutes an unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence and the irrevocable sanctity that should govern our understanding of what it means to be human.” Some steps you can’t take back. Sometimes when you surrender ground, it will be sold to the public as merely a small patch. In fact it is a line of demarcation that if conceded, can never be taken back. The only question which territory–which new category of victims– is gobbled up next?

#2. “In both practical and moral terms, it is misleading to think allowing people to terminate their life is without consequence for the entire society. Too much of the Victorian debate has been about the details and conditions under which people can be terminated and too little about the golden principles that would be abandoned by our legislature.” Exactly. This is not just about what will happen today (and to whom) but the legacy we bequeathing to the future.

Elsewhere today, we’ve reposted Margaret Somerville’s extraordinary essay. There she writes.

We must ask questions such as: What do we owe to future generations? What must we hold in trust for them? If we legalize physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia now, in one hundred years’ time, how will our descendants be treated and what will their society look like, especially its values, political climate, institutions and “ethical tone”?

#3. “An alarming aspect of the debate is the claim that safeguards can be provided at every step to protect the vulnerable,” Keating writes, “This claim exposes the bald utopianism of the project – the advocates support a bill to authorise termination of life in the name of compassion, while at the same time claiming they can guarantee protection of the vulnerable, the depressed and the poor. No law and no process can achieve that objective. This is the point. If there are doctors prepared to bend the rules now, there will be doctors prepared to bend the rules under the new system.”

“The bald utopianism of this project” is as apt a description as I have ever read. It is preposterous to ever have believed that the malignant genie, once unleashed, would be satisfied with “assisting” the “terminally ill.” As if any proof were needed, the experiences in Canada and the Benelux countries have shown conclusively that there is literally no boundary, no limitation, that proponents will respect.

Age, mental competence, relative health–none of this matter. The younger the better to be “assisted.” Competence? Who cares if someone is mentally competent to give an informed consent. Health? If you’re “tired of living,” reason enough to have someone help you kill yourself.

Dr. Michael Gannon, the president of the Australian Medical Association, put it much more eloquently.

Once you legislate this you cross the Rubicon. The cause for euthanasia has been made in a very emotional way and this is the latest expression of individual autonomy as an underlying principle. But the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the chronically ill and the dying must never be made to feel they are a burden.

#4. “Once this bill is passed the expectations of patients and families will change,” Keating observes. “The culture of dying, despite certain and intense resistance, will gradually permeate into our medical, health, social and institutional arrangements. It stands for everything a truly civil society should stand against.”

Since proponents inevitably (and cynically) tag all opponents as religious zealots, Keating concludes by stating flatly, “Opposition to this bill is not about religion.” So what is it about?

It is about the civilisational ethic that should be at the heart of our secular society. 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.

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Categories: Assisted Suicide