Do a huge majority of Australians really support euthanasia, as is often claimed?
Most people do not understand what is meant by euthanasia. It would seem that most people are opposed to the unnecessary prolonging of life and think that a patient – or his/her family – ought to be able to instruct the attending medical staff to discontinue life-preserving treatment and to turn off life-support machines.
In fact, the opportunity to do this already exists. If a person – or his/her family – chooses to discontinue medical treatment, and he/she subsequently dies a natural death as a result of the underlying illness, this is NOT euthanasia.
The refusal of futile or extreme treatment – either by the patient or by his/her family – is recognition of the inevitability of death, but NOT euthanasia.
Euthanasia is different to this. Euthanasia legally sanctions a deliberately intentional act designed to end the life of an individual. It approves someone – usually a medical professional, whose mindset and training ought to be shaped by a commitment to save life – to administer a lethal injection to end life.
Lawyer and ethicist Margaret Somerville observes:
“If you look at the most fundamental norm or value on which our type of societies are based, it is that we do not kill each other. No matter how compassionate and merciful your reasons for carrying out euthanasia, it still alters that norm that we do not kill each other to one where we do not usually, but in some cases we do.”
So, the legalisation of euthanasia crosses a huge chasm. It says that it is acceptable for someone – usually a doctor – to kill someone else if he/she requests it.
Creating such a legal framework has a profound impact on the way that people – especially the ill, the aged, and the disabled – view their lives, as well as the expectations that family, friends, and medical staff have of terminally-ill people.
No longer will it be a matter of “How can we best care for you?”, but it will be more a matter of “How long will you be around as an emotional and economic burden to us?”
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