Defining ourselves in the debate over death

By October 19, 2015 Recent News

Stuff 17 October 2015
OPINION: Thanks to a little-known politician, New Zealanders are about to embark on another round of debate over one of the more important issues facing our society. It’s important because it could tweak the foundations of who we are. And over time, that would change many more aspects of our society than we currently suspect.
We don’t have to guess that this is what legalising assisted suicide will do: We already know.
After all, assisted suicide has been legal in both the Netherlands and Belgium for more than a decade now. We know that when the laws were passed they were aimed very carefully at those who faced “hopeless and unbearable” suffering, and explicitly volunteered to die.
We know that children under the age of 12 were exempt from selecting voluntary euthanasia. We know that the elderly, or the depressed would never have qualified thanks to the need for multiple doctors to agree on the “hopelessness” of the medical condition, and we know patients would have been protected from errant doctors by specialised ethics committees.
But, of course, the boundaries of right and wrong never remain still for long in human societies.
That’s why it is no surprise that now, under the “Groningen Protocol”, a child of any age can be euthanased in the Netherlands. And their permission is not needed, thanks to the guidelines stating that mum and dad can make the call to kill if they believe it is the best option for their child. In fact, newborn babies are being euthanased by permission of their parents now.
It’s also no surprise that in February last year, Belgian politicians voted to formalise such practices in law, removing all age restrictions on assisted suicide. Debate now rages over the legality of assisted suicide for otherwise-healthy people with mental illness or depression, thanks to the very high profile case of 24-year-old “Laura” which made headlines the world over after she was granted permission to die.
And in the Netherlands the boundaries are far from settled, currently thanks to the group “Out of Free Will” which demand the right to die for over 70s who feel they have completed life.
As I say, it is no surprise, despite where the Netherlands and Belgium began their journeys on legal, voluntary, assisted suicide for those facing terminal illness and unbearable suffering.
After all, once we humans have pushed the boundaries of right and wrong a little further in (for those boundaries exist to keep evil contained, and us free from it) we soon forget where the lines once were and wish again for a little more “freedom”. It doesn’t matter whether we are Kiwi, Belgian or Dutch.
And it is all so strange and sad that we should even consider death as an option in the face of the ever-developing, cutting edge medical advances. We could choose to throw our time, efforts and money at them, making sure that those who may face death do so with as much comfort, support and love as we can possibly give them.
We could be the country that took the horror out of suffering, the pain and loneliness out of age, the blackness out of depression, instead of just another country that killed.