It must be hard, attempting to be all things to all people: just ask Kevin Rudd.
Kevin-4-Seven, the jetsetting Australian Prime Minister must be on track to hit the history books as the new George W Bush. For the first eight years of this century the world dealt with – and laughed over – Bushisms. Now that everyone’s free of him, though, Kevin Rudd’s busy globetrotting to market his new line of Ruddisms.
Rudd sits in his chairs at home in an attempt to get past the public image of a smooth, smug know-it-all, by trying to connect to the ‘average’ Australian with all the great colloquialisms.
Of course, according to Roly Sussex, professor of applied language at the University of Queensland, Mr Rudd’s colloquialisms “sound a little bit dated to people under about 50 probably.”1
Someone might want to remind Mr Rudd that he already bought the over-50 vote with his pension increases.
I guess he needs to make sure he gives them a fair shake of the sauce bottle, though, right?
So in the meantime, he’s been driving the porcelain bus after eating a few raw prawns with detailed programmatic specificity.
Yes, detailed programmatic specificity. What the hell? German translators had no idea what it meant – well, don’t think it’s your English, no one in the rest of the world knew what he meant either.
Apparently when he’s not trying to connect with the Australian over-50s, Mr Rudd wants to connect with the rest of the world by sounding so intelligent that no one else understands what he said. I remember hearing an anecdote in church once when I was younger.
A preacher in a church was absolutely on fire one Sunday morning. He’d preached a great sermon, and was greeting the congregants as they left.
One man came up to him, shook his hand, and said, “Excellent Sermon, Reverend, you know, you must be smarter than Einstein!”
Confused, but rather impressed with the compliment, the preacher replied, “Thank you! Why do you say that?”
“Well, Reverend,” The man replied. “They say Einstein was so smart, that when he spoke only half a dozen people in the world could actually understand him, but boy, no one can understand you!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Kevin Rudd. We look forward to another year and a half of Ruddisms to laugh at.
According to a newly-published article1 by Dr Andrew Corbett, providing a person with the choice to voluntarily end their suffering of a terminal illness does not provide them dignity or compassion. Tonight, I looked up the definitions of these two words.
Dignity: The quality or state of being worthy, honoured or esteemed.2
Compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.2
Dr Corbett states that through the archaic origins of these words, Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) is not dignified or compassionate.
It is easy to argue etymology and say that PAS is not compassionate, or does not allow the person dignity in their death. However we must remember that today we live in 2009, not 1009. Dr Corbett points out in his own article that the term ‘compassion’ means “with another in their pain” as though this is the only definition of the word (com = with; passion = painful suffering). I am absolutely certain, though, that Dr Corbett would have no qualms with advising fellow Christians to have a “passion” for Christ. Indeed, this would be commended, would it not? All Christians should endure painful suffering in their Christianity. It is no wonder, then, also that someone of this belief would argue that painful suffering is a good thing.
And I, to be honest, would not completely disagree. There is an old adage that says “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I myself will be honest enough to say that I went through several years where my life was ruled by a very deep depression. I was hospitalised for attempted suicide, committed self-harm regularly, and destroyed a very large part of my life. Now, at the other side of that, I am able to say that I am stronger for going through it. The difference is, though, that suffering a terminal illness is not something that is making the sufferer stronger; in fact it is doing exactly the opposite. The person suffering a terminal illness gets slowly weaker, until they die: not under their own terms; not through their own choice but through the ravaging of their body from an invading host.
In the context of today’s society, which, strangely enough, is the society we live in. Compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, together with a desire to alleviate it. To say that PAS is not alleviating another person’s distress is absurd. PAS is an absolute demonstration of being aware of another’s distress, and enacting on the desire to alleviate that pain in accordance with that person’s individual wishes.
Turning our attention to the word dignity, again we come up with an issue. A person’s dignity is their state of being worthy, honoured and esteemed. I certainly would never presume to suggest a person who is suffering a terminal illness has any less innate worth than myself; in fact, quite the opposite. I value that person’s worth enough to provide them their own choice on how they endure their illness. Is it not detracting from a person’s worth to take away from them the right to choose? I would argue that providing an individual with the right to choose, and honouring their individual wishes shows dignity towards that person.
Those who argue that Voluntary Euthanasia should not be made legal, seem to forget that in the case of those suffering a terminal illness, having the right to PAS is what is being legislated3. It is not a law that will provide doctors the right to give lethal injections to anyone who is considered a ‘lost cause’ or ‘hopeless’. It is the right of a terminally ill patient to make their own choice that is being legislated. PAS legislation is solely providing the right for a person who does not wish to become slowly trapped in their own body, dying painfully and slowly to end their suffering painlessly and with dignity. Any person who believes that they feel greater dignity in enduring their own pain has just as much freedom to do so.
In Oregon, USA where PAS is legal, statistics show that of the 49 cases of PAS in 2007, 49 – every single person – were concerned about the loss of their autonomy4. 42 (85.7%) also cited loss of dignity as one of their concerns4. Six out of every seven people declared that they believed their suffering would lead to a loss of dignity! In the opinions of those suffering terminal illness, ending their lives and their suffering on their own terms was a greater dignity than the slow and painful death afforded them by disease.
Free will and the right to make our own choices, is perhaps the most basic of human rights after the right to life. It is a shame that some people would argue that the right to life does not also include an individual’s right to die also. There is no moral reason to refuse a person the right to make their own choice regarding their life. In fact, refusing this right could be said to be the antipathy of compassion – no desire to alleviate the suffering of a dying person.
I would never presume to argue that a human life is worth less than another, or that one person is more valuable to society than another. Dr Paul Dunne stated in an interview with The Mercury5 that if Euthanasia laws were to be passed, Tasmanians will lose the ability to grow from the experience of death, citing that in palliative care units the “person lying in the bed is very powerful in bringing families together.”
First of all, the “person lying in the bed” would still have the ability to speak to their family, they would have the ability to say goodbye and they would have the ability to bring their family together and share in those last moments. The difference being that in the instance of PAS, they would actually have their own individual capability to interact with the family members around them, something that may not be possible to all terminally ill patients in the final stages of their suffering. Dr Dunne admits that “There are some people in whom you cannot control pain without sacrificing their awareness.” In turn stating that for some terminally ill patients, their own awareness – that which actually makes them human in the first place – is less important than the alleviation of their pain! It is better, according to Dr Dunne, for a person to live in a painless and vegetative state than it is for them to die peacefully.
More importantly, though, the argument is that the right of the suffering individual should be withheld for the benefit of others. Dr Dunne would suggest that the healthy family members surrounding the patient are of more worth than the patient themselves.
As humans, a large percentage of our population live in fear of death. It is a common affliction in our society that is born out of a variety of fears whether it is fear of the unknown; fear of dying itself or fear of what you believe will happen after death. Perhaps this is why we strive so hard to ensure that those around us also do not go through death. Death, though, is a natural part of living. No matter what we do with our life; how we live or what we believe, everyone will die one day. It is, perhaps, coming to terms with death that is one of the most important lessons that we can learn in life.
A person’s death, ultimately, is their own experience. When we stop being afraid of our own death, then we can accept the fact that a friend or family member has come to terms with their own, and has chosen to end their life with dignity and peace, rather than the slow and painful death of terminal illness. If there is a person more important in terminal illness, it is not the family surrounding the patient, but the patient themselves. The choice, therefore, should also be that person’s decision – no one else’s. Passing legislation that allows a person the right to make this choice entitles them to both dignity and compassion.
1 Can Euthanasia Be Dignified?
2 Definitions from Merriam-Webster Dictionary online
3 Dying with Dignity Act 2009
4 Characteristics and end-of-life care of 341 DWDA patients who died after ingesting a lethal dose of medication, Oregon, 1998-2007
5 Doctor challenges death Bill
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It has been a while since this debate was raised loudly in Australia. However, once again the debate on Euthanasia has raised its head, in Tasmania now, thanks to the introduction of a Bill to Tasmanian Parliament.
The Dying With Dignity Bill 37 of 2009, introduced by Nick McKim declares that it is “an Act to confirm the right of a person enduring a terminal illness with profound suffering to request assistance from a medically qualified person to voluntarily end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner”.
In a Facebook invitation to potential guests, wishing to attend the event entitled “Briefing Session for Pastors and Church Leaders – Euthanasia Bill” states in his description of this event that the Dying with Dignity Act is “better named: UNJUSTIFIED ASSISTED HOMICIDE BILL”. This demonstrates a ridiculous level of naivete to the entire concept of Voluntary Euthanasia.
What right do I, or anyone else have, to stand in judgement of a terminally ill person wishing to end their own suffering? I can not even begin to imagine what it would be like to slowly, on a day by day basis, become trapped deeper and deeper inside my own body. To lose more and more of my independence, until I am simply a consciousness trapped within a body that is filled with pain, invaded by disease and illness that can not be cured by any known means. I can’t even fathom what it must be like to suffer through something like that.
I can imagine what it would be like, and if I was to reach a point in my life where my only purpose, my only ability was to sit around day after day waiting to die, while others had to help me undertake the most basic of tasks such as eating and using the bathroom – I would not want to suffer that indignity. I would not want to suffer that humiliation. I would not want to be forced to simply have to wait to die.
It is absolutely disgusting, despicable and completely against any sense of compassion to condemn these people to a forced life of pain, suffering and slow death. It is disgusting that people would presume to say that a person suffering from a terminal illness does not have the right to end their life on their own terms, with dignity. It is inhumane to suggest that someone in this situation should be forced not to end their suffering, but to endure it until they are no longer able to enact any of their own free will, because they are trapped in a diseased and painful existence.
What right do you have to deliberately inflict this pain and suffering on another human being, by denying them the right to have that suffering ended with dignity and respect?
The only right that matters in this case, is the rights of the sufferer. That person should have the right to choose to endure the pain, perhaps in hope of a miracle or a cure being found before it is too late, but they should also have the right to end their life on their terms, rather than waiting for the disease to take over their bodies and end it for them.
A suffering person may well make that decision, and without the right to Die with Dignity, they may investigate and undertake other avenues of committing suicide. These avenues may still take longer than expected; they may be painful – they may even fail. These people should have the right to approach a qualified medical practitioner and be given a method of ending their life that will be dignified, painless and successful.
In no way is Assisted Voluntary Euthanasia anything akin to homicide. Could it not be suggested that it is the responsibility of a person caring for a person who is terminally ill and in constant pain, to provide mercy to that person? To alleviate their pain and suffering in any way possible? Voluntary Euthanasia is the act of committing suicide in a manner that is painless and dignified, and on the person’s own terms, rather than the terms of the illness they are suffering. A doctor providing the resource to do this, to ensure their patient is successful in undertaking a painless and dignified death should not hold any fear of legal repercussions for having mercy and compassion on someone who is requesting their assistance.
There is nothing unjustified about mercy. There is no homicide in assisting a person to take their own life.
In many things I disagree with the Green Party; however in this, for once they have got it spot on. No one has the right to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on a person for making their own choice.
Assisted Suicide. Voluntary Euthanasia. Call it what you will. It is merciful; it is compassionate; it is respectful; it is dignified – and it is time.