Euthanasia, Urban Legends & Common Gossip

One of the highlights of Monday nights is watching ABC’s Q and A panel show ‘with my friends’. ‘With’ of course, is a relative term. They’re not ‘with’ me in the living room – but tweeting along on Twitter or commenting on the proceedings on Facebook.

On Monday, 19 September, an elderly man in the Q and A audience raised the subject of euthanasia. What followed was an extraordinary recital of urban legends, conjecture, misinformation and common gossip about what would happen (and what, allegedly, has happened) when voluntary euthanasia (VE) is legalised.

After the show, my friend Dr David Leaf contacted me on Facebook.  As a highly experienced, primary care doctor who deals with life and death issues every day, and as a board member of Dying with Dignity NSW, David was furious.  Frankly, I was rather ‘hot under the collar’ myself.  These allegations had been aired and not one person had refuted them.  They were now floating out there in television land as ‘facts about voluntary euthanasia’; ‘facts’ we both knew were patently false.

The conversation quickly turned to what should ‘we’ do about it?

(That’s what I love about my friends. They’re not the sort who say ‘someone should do something about that’, they’re the sort who say, ‘what can we do about it?’)

So, David and I decided to write an article correcting the claims made about VE on Q and A.  Generously, Scott Stephens from the ABC’s  Religion and Ethics portal agreed to publish it.

It’s been published tonight and David and I, now all fired up and excited about our new writing partnership, are already planning our next article.

Here’s an extract from “Activist ‘dead wrong’ on euthanasia”:

“In a recent episode of ABC’s Q and A, disability rights activist, John Moxon, paints a frightening picture of societies in which voluntary euthanasia (VE) is legal.

Speaking from the audience, Moxon, a quadriplegic, warns that the VE legislation currently before the South Australian parliament:

“… will enable a doctor to kill somebody, on the judgement of the doctor alone, that the person’s life is not worth living.”

After the show, Moxon’s anti-euthanasia group, ProLiving, posted the following comment on their website:

“ProLiving supporter John Moxon gave a good account of a disability perspective on the issue of euthanasia in the ABC program Q & A on 19th September.”

This is alarming. If the ‘disability perspective’ on VE is based on the kind of information disseminated by Mr Moxon on Q and A, people with disabilities are being grossly misinformed. ”  [Read more]

Chrys Stevenson

5 thoughts on “Euthanasia, Urban Legends & Common Gossip

  1. cushla geary

    A good, sound article. There should be no room in such a public debate for arguments based in religious dogma – it is not a religious topic, no matter how much the more fundamentalist dogmatists like to think it so.
    There is a great deal of confusion and emotionalism injected into the debate by those who are ideologically opposed to the very idea of artificially shortening a human life – even when that life is not their own, and the actual possessor of that life has faced its inevitable end, and decided that its prolongation is not worth the attendant suffering. It would be a boon to all concerned if those with only the axe of religious faith to grind would pull their heads in.

  2. cushla geary

    There is another facet to the euthanasia debate that is actually not a discussion on the merits of artificially ending a life, but of artificially prolonging it, in the name of preserving life at all costs. As with actual euthanasia, this is an area in which medical personnel could be forgiven for fearing to tread, as it’s a minefield of legal, religious and emoptional argument.
    For some people, recovering after life-threatening illness or accident is a blessing – for others, it’s more in the nature of a nightmare. Doctors are sworn to preserve life, but there are many for whom the preserved life is a weary burden. For others, there’s no recovery at all – just the long, slow fading into oblivion, watched by sad relatives and monitored by the clicking and flashing of the robot life that keeps their flesh from the final death.
    Failing some kind of formal directive from the person when living and in their right mind, rescusitation of a dying patient, or maintenance of their body on life support is automatic when there’s even the faintest hope of life. Sometimes that life returns – rarely, it returns in good condition, but all too often it’s a sad travesty that flickers on and off, and finally fades out.

    I’m not arguing that doctors should not save the dying – sanity forbid! But I would urge people to make a living will while they are healthy and capable of assessing the consequences of severe injury or debilitationg illness. Because, although those who recover – like the quadriplegic man on QandA – may feel differently, most of us who have honestly assessed their own lives, know there are circumstances in which they have no wish to see them prolonged.

    I wasn’t going to write this, but reading over what I’ve already written, I think I’d better amplify it with an example: Doctors can be intensely proud of their achievements – justifiably so, for the main – but their instinct is to preserve life; not all cope well with the families of people who have adamantly opposed the artificial preservation of their life, simply because that life can be preserved.
    Some years ago, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury that involved the excision of a substantial portion of his brain. The neurologist assured us that he had “a 60:40 chance of recovery, 40 being the recovery side”; and if he recovered, he then had a “60:40 chance of remaining in a vegetative state”. (40 again being on the recovery side of the equation). These options were not what my husband would have wanted – he’d always adamantly determined that he should never, ever, be put on life support if the chances of recovery were so slim. Unfortunately, he’d never put those wishes on paper, so my daughter and I spent much time arguing that he should be taken off the life-support, and given the chance to recover – or not, as the case might be. One doctor told us we were advocating euthanasia. The Neuro-surgeon was deeply offended that we weren’t particularly grateful for his efforts – he said that we should be relieved that L was still alive, no matter what his eventual condition.

    Eventually, his life support *was* switched off, and he began to recover. Several bouts of pneumonia, many blinding headaches, the loss of a quarter of his sight, and a lot of his hearing, and 3 months in rehabilitation later, he was released to return to his own home, supposedly capable of managing with “support”. A few weeks later, I found him weeping bitterly: when I asked, he said he wanted to kill himself, but he couldn’t remember how. He’s now in a dementia unit, where his particular form of memory/motor damage is dealt with by relatively indifferent carers; where I visit once a week, and he still says he wishes he could remember how to kill himself.

    Even so short a time as 20 years ago, he would have died as a result of his accident, and I cannot say that it would have been a greater grief to any of us than the half-life he has been given because medical science has made so many advances in the treatment of brain injury. I know that he would have made this recovery, with or without the life-support he was given, and that we are all lucky that he got the “40%” – but I believe most emphatically, that his prior wishes should have been recorded, and acted upon by the doctors – even if that meant he didn’t survive the surgery.

  3. Doug Steley

    It is interesting that the same people who call for the “Traditional Values of Marriage” to be kept and upheld want the Modern science of medicine to prolong lives.

    200 years ago euthanasia was not a debate because people died from things that are now considered quite trivial.

    Another great article Chrys


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