Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gardai Investigating Euthanasia Claim

Police have begun investigations after a woman identified as ‘Jane’ called a radio show and claimed to have given her terminally ill father a lethal injection ten years ago. The woman’s harrowing description of the misery her father apparently suffered, highlights the need for decent palliative care to be more readily available so that those nearing the end of life can receive the physical, emotional and spiritual care necessary to live out their final days with dignity.

What it should not do is precipitate any change in the law. There are sound ethical and legal reasons why euthanasia is not permitted by the overwhelming majority of countries. The Southern Cross Bioethics Institute produced an excellent briefing in 2001, clarifying many areas of confusion surrounding the euthanasia debate such as the right to refuse treatment, and analysing the effects of legal euthanasia on countries such as the Netherlands.

The pro-euthanasia movement persistently claim that a carefully-worded law on assisted suicide which was subject to strict guidelines would be sufficient to prevent abuse, with the Netherlands being used as a showcase for euthanasia. However, as the SCBI analysis so clearly reveals, the situation in the Netherlands is, if anything, an object lesson on the dangers of legalising euthanasia not its perceived benefits. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine a situation in which legal euthanasia would not cause the deaths of vulnerable people through coercion (real or imagined), the underlying assumption that some lives are ‘not worth living’ and that, by extension, some people have a duty to die.

Euthanasia is often described as ‘mercy-killing’, but a truly merciful response to suffering ensures that the person involved receives a high standard of care and is treated with the dignity he or she deserves as a member of the human family. Killing - whatever the motives - is an affront to the inherent value and dignity of the human person.