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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Colin Gavaghan on New Zealand's euthanasia debate

Will your granny be next to the wall if euthanasia is allowed? An interesting post on the policy debate in New Zealand.

I doubt that we can ever guarantee that people who opt for physician-assisted active suicide of some kind always do so without feeling some sort of unconscionable pressure. But think of it this way. You may one day find yourself in the sort of terrible position where issues of this kind arise (perhaps in great pain and/or with no control of what happens around you and to you, while the clock ticks slowly towards your death).

Which is scariest for you right now? Which is the worse prospect - (1) finding youself in that terrible position with the option of physician-assisted suicide, but no guarantee that you won't face unconscionable pressures to adopt it (but a whole lot of regulation to reduce the probability that you'll face unconscionable pressures) OR (2) not having the option at all? I'd like some regulation to give me some protections from the unconscionable pressures, but I don't want to lose the option entirely and perhaps have to coninue to endure a terrible situation with no option for escape. Furthermore, while I want some regulatory protections, I don't want them to be so detailed and onerous that, for practical purposes, the option is taken away from me. I expect that this how most of us feel about it.


steve oberski said...

There seems to be a tacit assumption that increased risk of involuntary euthanasia is only worth discussing in the context of allowing euthanasia.

Given that euthanasia already occurs in jurisdictions in which it is currently illegal, quite often in the context of a collusion between family and medical staff (i.e. rather than forcing granny to suffer through massive, multiple medical interventions what say we turn up the morphine drip), this sort of clandestine procedure is just as likely if not more so open to abuse and by it's very nature if difficult to monitor and regulate.

A well designed and implemented system for physician-assisted active suicide could very well reduce the incidence of involuntary euthanasia.

Eamon Knight said...

Being an engineer by training, I look on it as an exercise in risk minimization. Under any end-life-management regime (including the current one), there is some chance I will be shuffled off while my life could still be saved, and my remaining time would hold some reasonable value to me. There is also a chance that I will hang on past the point at which my misery outweighs any possible positives. Ideally, we should put in place a system that balances those risks. And as far as I can see, we can only guard against the second risk by legitimizing some sort of euthanasia.

BTW, anyone interested in this topic should follow Eric MacDonald's Choice In Dying blog (choiceindying.com).

ColinGavaghan said...

Good points, Russell; and thanks for drawing attention to my article.

I'mk intrigued by the selective manner in which the consequentialist concerns are raised only in the context of VE/AS, when they appear (to me at least) to be at least as valid in the context of what we (UK, NZ, Aus) currently allow. I'm genuinely not sure if (a) opponents are being disingenuous about this - i.e. their concerns are really of another nature, (b) they just haven't thought about the issue in this way, or (c) they really think there are greater dangers with VE/As than with treatment withdrawal.

I've been hoping some of them would engage with my article and shed some light on the subject, because I really would like to understand. I suppose if they don't, that in itself may be somewhat informative...

Chris said...

If Euthanasia is legalised then we are creating a right, which we would in fact be a human right. For a human right to be valid it has to be applied universally and this is what we are seeing in the Netherlands. Put simply, If one 'class' of persons can have it then very soon it will be demanded that other 'classes' have it too.