Euthanasia: Mercy or suicide?

  • 18/06/2016
Euthanasia: Mercy or suicide?

Voluntary euthanasia hit headlines in New Zealand last year and the case divided public opinion. Parliament launched an inquiry into legislation and so far more than 20,000 submissions have been received.

The Canadian senate gave its approval to a bill that could bring into law euthanasia on Friday (local time). It outlines under what circumstance Canadians can be legally assisted to kill themselves and only needs royal accent to become law.

So could New Zealand follow suit?

Pro-euthanasia campaigner Andrew Denton told The Nation desperate people with terminal illness and chronic pain are being forced to commit suicide because they have no alternative.

"I'll give you a sense of what that suffering is like. It involves incredible physical pain; it involves incredible emotional pain -- what's called existential pain.

"In your county and in mine [Australia], elderly people are [committing suicide] in desperate ways, with terminal and chronic illnesses, because they have no alternative."

He supports palliative care but thinks it isn't enough and choice should be available to those who are desperate.

"Ultimately, the level of pain and suffering -- because that's the key word -- it's not just physical pain -- gets to a point where palliative carers themselves only have two ways of dealing with it, which is to terminally sedate a patient, put them into a coma and look after them until they die or allow them to refuse treatment.

But Matthew Jensen from lobby group Care Alliance says Mr Denton is spreading fear.

"What people need to hear is that palliative care works. It's not perfect; we need to improve it, but that's what we can do. What we don't need to do is to scare people into thinking that a natural death is going to be awful and slow and undignified," Mr Jensen says.

"And, yes, there is suffering, and I absolutely agree that it's not simply about pain, because physical pain is the thing that doctors can treat with drugs. What hospices and palliative care people do is they deal with the whole person, and they walk that journey with them, and that's what we should be doing -- not giving them a lethal injection."

But Mr Denton says doctors are already assisting patients to die and there is no legal protection for them.

"You give me a name of doctor in New Zealand who's doing that, and I will go straight down to the police station and report them for murder," Mr Jensen says.