Check-out choice

by Bill Ralston / 23 April, 2015
Let’s get this euthanasia thing sorted to avoid more senseless suffering.
Cartoon/Steve Bolton

We’re very close now to the next wave of moral and political debate that has the ability to change our lives – or rather, our deaths. Over the past 40 or 50 years, we’ve seen law changes allowing medically arbitrated abortion, consensual homosexual acts and gay marriage. These measures came only after long, hard-fought debate. The next wave of change is likely to come around the issue of euthanasia.

In Wellington, 41-year-old Lecretia Seales, terminally ill with brain cancer, is fighting for the choice to have a doctor terminate her life before the pain becomes too great. Her case is that she has a basic human right to avoid suffering. It’s thought that her euthanasia is based on specific circumstances and would not create a precedent, but it would, inevitably, lead to similar cases being brought.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you start to think long and hard about how you might like to exit it. I knew a bloke who dropped dead after taking too much Viagra or similar while making love to two young women. That’s certainly going in style, but I suspect it’s likely to be an embarrassment for your grieving family.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d quite like to check out quietly in my own bed while fast asleep after a great dinner party with old friends, at the age of 100. The chances of that, I know, are slim. Many of us will probably die before our century after a battle with some vile disease, the palliative care for which doesn’t quite do the job.

I had a friend who died after surgery for brain tumours that turned out to be lethal. Although I mourned his loss, I was also secretly glad he didn’t revive and have to live on for months more, greatly debilitated and in pain. So, then, why shouldn’t people who are terminally ill but still rational have the power to go before a medical board and gain the right to an assisted death?

Politics. There was a private member’s euthanasia bill on the list at Parliament but Labour leader Andrew Little prevented any of his members from picking it up. The Government certainly won’t introduce such legislation, and as far as I can tell, the minor parties won’t either.

It’s an act of pure political cowardice; politicians are well aware of the outrage and collateral damage that such a move would engender from the religious right. Yet we certainly need to have a public debate about euthanasia, because people are needlessly suffering before an inevitable death.

Yes, I know the arguments against medically assisted voluntary death. Scheming relatives might pressure their grandfather into putting his hand up for the big hit of morphine because they want his chainsaw or his fortune. But a medical assessment panel could surely adjudicate that issue. I say a medical panel because the courts are no place to be deciding on that kind of life-or-death issue, and besides, the backlog of cases waiting for a High Court date probably means the patient would be long dead by the time it was heard.

Another reason for politicians to abhor the subject is that many people find death, particularly their own, difficult to discuss. Well, I’m afraid we need to talk about it.

I am, by the way, in robust health. One of my irregular visits to the doctor has revealed I am by some miracle in wonderfully good condition. Frankly, we need to consider this issue while we’re fit and healthy, because we don’t want to be wrestling with it on our deathbeds.

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