Euthanasia: A right may become a responsibility

In a remarkable piece of attention seeking behaviour (even for a politician), Australian Democrats MP Sandra Kanck stood up in the South Australian parliament and described, in detail, methods for committing suicide. As it is illegal, under federal law, to publish such details, Ms Kanck took advantage of parliamentary privilege to make the statement. It is recorded in Hansard, but has not been published in the online version. It is published elsewhere online, but I’m not going to link to it. Use Google.

Ostensibly, Ms Kanck chose to detail the various methods of murdering oneself and the relative virtues of each (note: don’t throw yourself in front of a train because it is unfair to train drivers) because she wanted to make some point about euthanasia. However, in doing so, she ignored advice from South Australia’s most senior psychiatrist, Dr John Brayley, that she risked inspiring or provoking more suicide attempts by her actions.

“One of the means of preventing suicide is by removing lethal means – by giving out this information it can make the means more available.”

He said he could see no benefit in such details being disseminated.

Advocates of euthanasia frequently talk of a right to die. They frame their arguments along the lines that someone has the right to choose whether or not they should live and that only the individual has the right to make such a decision. Dying with dignity, is another term.

One concern with this — aside from the religious arguments — is that there are very powerful incentives for young people to want the elderly to die. For example, there is that most basic human impulse of greed and a selfish dislike of curtailing one’s own ambitions to care for the old and decrepit. One can see something of this impulse in the phenomena of ‘granny dumping’ where adult children, fed up with caring for an adult relative, decide to dump them at a hospital, shopping centre or other public place.

So even though euthanasia will begin as procedure for only the most extreme of circumstances, human nature may lead assisted suicide down the same path as abortion and caesarian births before it. Just as abortion is now seen by some as a form of contraceptive, and women can make use of caesarians as a means of meeting cutoff dates for exclusive schools or qualifying for government handouts, it is not inconceivable that, given human nature, the bar for euthanasia may be substantially lowered from where we imagine it to be today.

The right to die might then become a responsibility. Is it not possible that were euthanasia legalised, that elderly parents would find themselves under pressure from their children to be “responsible” and “die with dignity” rather than continue to squander their inheritance on the medical and other expenses that often accompany one’s twilight years. Such parents could be seen as selfish and irresponsible in their obstinate refusal to make way for the succeeding generation.