May 26, 2017

Irritable Bowel Syndrome could be grounds for euthanasia under legal loopholes

Irritable Bowel Syndrome could be grounds for euthanasia under legal loopholes

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Euthanasia laws being drafted have massive – and very exploitable – holes in them.

One of the most common arguments used against the legalisation of euthanasia is that its use will expand over time. This is often called the “slippery slope” argument.

Opponents claim that if an original law only allows euthanasia for the terminally ill, it will be extended to those without a terminal illness but with a chronic one, or that while it might only relate to physical illness in the beginning, it will eventually be extended to other types of suffering as well. In recent weeks, a 12-year-old child was put to death in Belgium after euthanasia laws, which originally began as “for competent adults only,” were extended to use by children.

But those oppose the proposed legislation to be debated in the South Australian parliament from Thursday of this week might find the “slippery slope” a little difficult to argue if the legislation is passed.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016, which was tabled earlier this year by Labor MP Stephanie Key and is being backed by comedian-turned-lobbyist Andrew Denton, already starts some way down the path of the “slippery slope” of which euthanasia opponents are so often fearful.

Under the proposed legislation, people who are not suffering from a terminal illness would be eligible for euthanasia. The only medical requirement is that the person is suffering from a “medical condition.”

Under the proposed legislation, the required “medical condition” need not be a physical condition, nor does it need to cause any physical suffering. In order to be eligible, it is sufficient that there is mental suffering only.

And finally, the level of pain or suffering experienced by the person does not need to meet any type of threshold. All that is required is that the suffering is “unbearable” based on the subjective judgment of the person making the request, and the proposed legislation even explicitly decrees that no person can be challenged or questioned as to whether their suffering is “bearable” or “unbearable.”

Those who will stand up this week in the South Australian parliament to express their opposition to this proposal might not be able to rely on a “slippery slope” argument because, it seems, this Bill is already frighteningly broad.

Other than offering euthanasia to children or to others without the requisite mental ability to understand the decision, it is hard to see how this legislation could allow any more killing. The person’s treating physician does not even have to be involved: any two doctors will do.

Imagine if Philip Nitschke still had his medical license. He was a South Australian doctor who advocated “rational suicide,” the belief that it was a rational decision for any adult to choose to end their life, irrespective of whether or not they were experiencing any type of suffering.

How do you argue the “slippery slope” when it comes to laws which would sanction the medical killing of someone with a vision or hearing impairment, or even with irritable bowel syndrome?

It’s a different approach to that which is being taken in Victoria at the moment, another state which is preparing to bring in euthanasia and which could even get there before South Australia. Half of Premier Daniel Andrews’ cabinet have publicly stated that they are in favour of the law changing, and it is reported that another quarter of the cabinet are privately in favour of euthanasia. If the cabinet agrees to present legislation to parliament – and this seems likely – a conscience vote will determine whether euthanasia will return to this country.

Health minister Jill Hennessy, who is in favour of legalised euthanasia has advised those advocating for it to take a soft approach to their lobbying in order to increase the likelihood of winning support for the legislation. Instead of proposing broad access for euthanasia from the beginning, the suggestion is that advocates be willing to compromise in order to gain broad support. It’s hard to decide which of the proposals is worse.

As bad as it is, at least the South Australian proposal is honest. The outrageously broad legislative provisions honestly illustrate the position in which any country that sanctions the putting down of its citizens will eventually find itself: euthanasia for the terminally ill or not, physically ill or not, and for those experiencing a significant amount of suffering or not.

The Victorian proposal, while not as broad as South Australia’s, outdoes it in deceptiveness. Victoria’s “soft” approach seeks to lure people into a false sense of security by proposing narrow categories for euthanasia eligibility, and ignoring what even a cursory view of the evidence in other countries shows us: narrow categories don’t stay that way for long!

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