Euthanasia debate: Use your head, not your heart

By January 29, 2016 Recent News

Stuff 28 January 2016
I am a registered nurse of over 10 years-experience in the health care industry.
I have worked with the elderly, the disabled, the mentally, acutely, chronically and terminally ill.
Once upon a time, before I worked in healthcare, I used to sort of support euthanasia. I’d never want it for myself, but what was the problem in giving it to patients who requested it?
What changed my mind? The horrifying large amount of abuse I’ve seen.
Not everyone has a nice family with good support networks. Not everyone has a large circle of friends. Not everyone has wealth and a beautiful face to plaster all over the media demanding a doctor kill them.
Sure, patients would tell me they wanted to die, that they were a bother, a burden, they were taking up space, that a dog wouldn’t be allowed to suffer like this.
Yet, you push a little deeper, and what do you find? Their spouse died years ago. They live in some drafty, cold house that they can’t afford to heat. Their diet isn’t enjoyable any more. Their pension isn’t really enough. They have no real social life. That their friends are sick, dying, dead. Their siblings the same. Their own family just don’t have time for them.
To contrast, I’ve met people who were very sick, often in hospital, either living in a rest home or elder care facility. Yet they had family who were loving, devoted and involved. Birthdays and Christmas presents always sent. Tasty food presented as best their swallowing capabilities allowed. Grandkids. Photos of family and pets and trinkets adorning their rooms. They knew they were valued. That there was a place of honour for them.
Those patients never spoke of death.
It actually frustrates me to see the way the media present these cases seeking euthanasia. They’re not the reality for the majority of people facing terminal illnesses. The outcomes painted of horrible pain, floods of diarrhoea, they’re absolute worst case scenarios. In some cheeky articles, I’ve even seen authors intentionally misrepresent palliative care as euthanasia in order to make euthanasia seem more reasonable.
I’ve seen a lot of death.
When Palliative care was involved, it was dignified, peaceful, painless. When the final moments came suddenly, or palliative wasn’t involved, that’s when you get your horror stories.
The media is a strange beast, they offer up stories lauding the choice of suicide of older individuals, who’ve lived long lives, done what they wanted, educated, travelled, made a difference. They kill themselves in the privacy of their own home because the supposed choice of “death with dignity” wasn’t legal where they are. And wow, what a lot of support those stories get. Everyone loves hearing about dignity, choice, freedom! They are good things! Yet the moment some trans kid kills himself, or some teen girl decides cutting just isn’t enough, or a middle aged man succumbs to a lengthy battle with schizophrenia, those are the suicides we’re meant to lament and work to prevent? In some countries, these people could avoid the fuss and mess of a DIY suicide, and have a doctor do it for them.
Belgium recently approved a 24-year-old woman the right to euthanasia because, as she stated, “life, it’s just not for me”. Thankfully, in the end she chose to give living another shot.
In the interests of pushing a very particular agenda, the media offers up for public consumption expertly crafted tales to illicit sympathy for the complainant cause, with very little mention of the abuse and concerns overseas experience has raised. When mention of worry is given, it’s generally always from some conservative Christian who looks like a complete nut-job ranting about God and suicide being a sin and going off about how Hitler started with the disabled and Euthanasia as a term was first used by those nasty Nazi folk!
It’s not really a slippery slope, though, so much as it is a “category creep”.
For Belgium it started with just the terminally ill with six months to live and uncontrolled pain, then it was for all terminally unwell, then the chronically ill, then the mentally unwell, the disabled, children, reports of doctors euthanising new borns with certain non-fatal conditions, now even talk of offering it up to older folk who feel they’ve done their dash.
I have a lot of empathy for those facing these conditions, professionally and personally I’ve witnessed a lot of journeys through terminal illness. I have no doubt ACT Party leader David Seymour and those of his mindset mean well, but they’re grossly misguided about how adequate safeguards can be written into law. There are multiple abuses overseas, as well as quite a few unsavoury stories of complications and failures of the euthanasia process. The idea that two doctors can make this decision without failure or abuse, we already have an example where two certifying consultants are meant to apply the law’s instructions to an individual’s circumstances – abortion. And we all know gosh darn well that that law is loosely applied.
I have no doubt that for some people, legalised euthanasia will be a joyful thing, reassuring, embraced, and competently requested, but for many, many others it will be something that they chose under duress. Poverty, depression, isolation, no family, cruel family, abuse, neglect, lack of resources, lack of choices. We’ll will eventually see circumstances where a person’s choice really isn’t assured, where non-competent persons can be hurried along.
Just consider the kind of penny-pinching our governments like to do, and with all the talk of healthcare budget blow outs, and an increasing elder population, do people really think euthanasia is just a matter of personal preference? An old woman, with a significant health history, living in expensive care facilities, multiple acute hospital stays? Lethal drugs are rather cheap.
The purpose of the law is to protect the weak and the vulnerable, not pander to the wealthy and powerful.
For some, suicide is their choice – legal or not, chosen competently or not. Keeping it illegal won’t really prevent those persons choosing it of their own hand, but keeping it illegal will protect an awful lot of people who it would be forced upon.
If we want to help the dying, the unwell, we need to demand better funding for our health services, for palliative care. We need to keep an eye on each other, check on that crazy cat lady down the street who never gets visitors. Keep our elderly and disabled relatives in our family activities. Care for those in our communities who don’t have family or a decent social network of support. The enthusiasm that drives us to care for our at-risk youth we need to also apply to how we include the disabled and the elderly in our community.
Yeah, there are some self-isolated jerks out there, but since when did being a jerk allow a death sentence?