I am struggling with the Euthanasia debate that we are having and will be voting on in a referendum later this year in our New Zealand elections.
Not because I am against the debate or against peoples personal freedom to choose, but for the simple reason that the “right to die” arguments put forward by the pro-euthanasia groups seems to be in direct contradiction to the “no right to die” arguments put forward by groups like Life Matters who have a goal of zero suicide in New Zealand.
For, on one hand, we say “Yes, your life is nearing its end and becoming intolerable, and we agree that you should be able to end it when and how you see fit so we will allow you to choose to die” and on the other hand we say “No, you must not end your life because life is precious, what you think is intolerable and even meaningless actually has great meaning and with help could be not just tolerable but enjoyable.”
Now I am not so foolish as to say that both euthanasia and suicide are the same things. The former know that all future hope is lost and latter think (for reasons we don’t always fully understand) that all future hope is lost, and of course, knowing and thinking you know are two different things.
But they are maybe not all that different!
Death is the one abiding fact of life, in that all will die, and of course one of the questions is when, but I wonder if a better question is how?
My struggle is are we sending mixed messages when we say to some “you may” and to some “you may not”?
Thou shalt not kill, despite the fact history shows we have often ignored it, has still served humanity well and I’m unconvinced yet of the wisdom of replacing that “one law” with many “new laws”.
And are we now somehow equating time with value when it comes to life? Does someone with six months left really offer the world less than someone with twenty years, and does that somehow devalue their life? Not in my experience.
My mother, in her last days on this earth, through her dignity, courage and acceptance of her fate, in spite of her suffering, maybe because of her suffering, gave me the greatest gift I have ever received and that was during a time when all hope had been lost. I hope I’m brave enough someday to give my family that same gift.
Have we got to the stage in our white-washed antiseptic society where we think suffering has no value, despite the fact that all the moral philosophers, sages, saints, mystics, poets, novelists, not to mention the great religions, faiths, creeds, movements, political and social advances, often seem to have been born out of great suffering, with their subsequent gifts to the world incalculable?
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Christ knew that suffering was ahead and yet all were prepared to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and I for one, like many others, am glad they did.
For death can have great meaning and value but it can also be meaningless and valueless.
Two men throw themselves into a raging river, knowing full well it will end their lives, and yet their deaths are not the same.
One jumps in to save a little girl drowning. He cares so much for life that he is prepared to give up his own. His death is a sacred heroic act.
One jumps in to end his own life. His pain and mental state are such that he now no longer cares for any life, either his own or others. His death is a selfish act.
I make no judgement on the latter, I have only empathy and sympathy for their pain, and the one charge you may not level against me is “he jests at scars, that never felt a wound”, to quote the English Bard.
I have been wounded. I carry the scars. I know something of these matters.
I write only to encourage debate.
Let’s think carefully and proceed cautiously!