Saturday 15 June 2013


This week I listened to an Ideas programme from Radio New Zealand National on Euthanasia.  The same arguments for euthanasia that I have heard elsewhere came up in the programme: it gives people control over their lives, and people should have a way out if they don't want to be a burden on their families.  As a Christian, I wish to reject both those arguments: control of our lives (including their ending) belongs to God, and independence is not a virtue.

However Dr. Rodney Syme, the last speaker to be interviewed, made an intriguing point that was quite new to me.  He is pro-euthanasia and has dealt with many patients who have wished to end their own lives.  In his experience it is only the middle class and well-educated who want euthanasia - the poor don't seem to ask for it and he doesn't know why.  I wonder if it is because control and independence are luxuries of the middle class?  The poor have never been allowed to feel that they are in control of their lives, and they need to be interdependent in order to survive, so illness can't take from them things they never had anyway...

Dr Sinead Donnelly, who spoke from the anti-euthanasia perspective, also made a point that made me think.  She talked about exploring with patients what makes their lives unbearable and working in her practice as a palliative care doctor to relieve the causes of their suffering so that they no longer want to die.  It reminded me of my perspective on abortion: we need to create a world where people are able to carry their pregnancies to term, not just prevent them from ending them.  What do we, as a society, need to do so that those with incurable illnesses feel able to go on with their lives?

As something of an aside, I was startled to realise that, were I to have a different attitude to my CFS, I would qualify for euthanasia under the legislation currently in the private members bill ballot in New Zealand.  You have to be over the age of 18, have an untreatable (rather than simply terminal) condition and consider your suffering to be unbearable.  Many people with CFS in New Zealand appear to meet that latter condition, too, even if I do not.

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