Editorial Euthanasia: A case of ‘selective listening’?

By October 21, 2013 Recent News

Nathaniel Ctre October 2013
Maryan Street, author of a bill which seeks to legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in New Zealand, has repeatedly made the point that “the social conversation has moved” since 2003 when the last Bill was put forward. I agree with her.
But, whereas Street means to infer (without real evidence) that there has been a shift in opinion towards favouring change, I mean something quite different. I mean that in the last 10 years the social context has changed and is now characterised by a range of different concerns. These concerns, articulated in various social conversations, lead me to a very different conclusion about the desirability of euthanasia.
Firstly, there has arisen a new conversation about the dangers of growing old in New Zealand. Elder abuse is now a significant issue confirmed, sadly, by recent reports of family members in Christchurch standing over elderly relatives and intimidating them to hand over earthquake compensation pay-outs. The reported case of the woman who died a horrific death from scabies, allegedly attributed to carer neglect, is yet another example. Age Concern (NZ) notes that 1 in 40 of all elderly people experience some form of abuse or neglect, equivalent to two people being abused every hour of the day. Given that the reported cases represent approximately 16% of the total abuse cases, that would amount to a total of 6,250 cases per year or 17 per day. Shamefully, 80% of abuse is committed by family members even when that person is in residential care.
Then there is the conversation that has followed from the reporting of the (Auckland) results of the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Over half of those questioned were lonely and nine per cent described themselves as “severely” or “very severely” lonely. Depression is also a significant factor for more than 20%, and 40% report experiencing everyday discrimination, mostly because of age. The study further notes that elderly people are facing a future of less housing and income security. These figures are of huge concern when considering research which shows that persistent requests for euthanasia or assisted-suicide are related to loss of control, social isolation or being a burden rather than a desire to avoid a painful death.