Voluntary euthanasia & the religious right

22 May

Tomorrow, May 23rd, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill introduced on May 2nd by Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, will be debated in the NSW Parliament. Ms Faehrmann’s Bill is similar to the Death with Dignity Act which has seen physician assisted dying operate safely and successfully in Oregon since 1997.

Chrys Stevenson, speaker, blogger and advocate for voluntary euthanasia, has written this piece on the extraordinary infiltration of Faehrmann’s private briefing on the Bill by Sydney GP, Catholic and committed anti-euthanasia campaigner, Dr Catherine Lennon.

Dr Lennon also has history with the RU486 controversy, in which she referred to the drug as “human pesticide.”

To find out how Lennon managed this gatecrash, and just how extreme her views are, do read Stevenson’s excellent unpacking of the bizarre events, and find out who is Lennon’s political relative by marriage.

What Stevenson importantly  demonstrates is the lengths to which the religious right will go in order to impose their fundamentalist ambitions on the entire community. This is something we probably all need to be aware of, if we aren’t already.

The religious right’s impudent meddling in the most intimate  and private of human affairs, from decisions about reproduction and contraception, sexual morality throughout life, and then death, never ceases to offend me. I have a terminal illness which has been in remission for some time now. I have, more than once, been very close to death. What I fear is not dying, but being forced to live in circumstances that are intolerable to me. Nobody else can decide what those circumstances are. Surely no other person has more right than I do to determine the hour of my death, if I am in a position to do that, let alone religious fanatics who are complete strangers to me in every possible way.

We need more conversations in our society about dying, and how we can prepare ourselves for that inevitability. This piece in the Canberra Times by journalist Jenna Price is a start, although I do question the notion of a “good death,” which can place unrealistic demands on the dying and their loved ones. There are many reasons why a death can’t be “good”, depending on one’s interpretation of that word.

In the meantime, it seems to me that the enemies of any kind of chosen “good death” are the zealous religious right, who apparently feel their god prefers to watch us suffer than to mercifully die. This makes no sense to me. If in dying we go to god, as they would have it, why aren’t we all throwing ourselves off the cliffs like lemmings, the sooner to attain the promised better life with god in the sweet hereafter?

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22 Responses to “Voluntary euthanasia & the religious right”

  1. doug quixote May 22, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    The last point regarding death is an interesting one, and one which Hitchens used to declare religion “evil”, in that it is a death cult : the true believer cannot wait to die so that he and his fellow saints can go straight to heaven (nirvana, paradise) and be with God.

    Ostaensibly, anyway. It generally seems that they prefer their enemies to go first, and presumably to the other place.

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  2. paul walter May 22, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Wish I could find something to quarrel with with this.
    The only thing I can think of as to the conservative viewpoint is that it may have been originally founded on some sort of concern that life be respected: that an “other” is to considered human rather than just cast off as a convenience.
    But what has evolved seems so inverted as to more resemble its opposite.
    These people aren’t to be found protesting the conditions billions of “others” in the third world have to live under, supporting liberation theology in Latin America; land redistribution and family planning, say.
    Rather, they would adopt Abbott’s attitude that the poor are responsible for their misfortunes, are “unworthy”; paradoxically, almost a take from Calvinism ( revised Augustinianism?) that a morally superior “elect” is not be troubled with concerns for the hapless of this world.
    They must be permitted to concentrate instead on their elevation to the Kingdom of God, for their tireless efforts in regulating the sinful, seemingly a task as thankless as the work done by the Totenkampf in removing degenerate untermensch at the rear of the Eastern Front.

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  3. gerard oosterman May 22, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    The extreme views by the religious right on Euthanasia might also be a form of jealousy. What gives you the right to escape suffering while I have to continue on with my suffering? They have always been ardent and big on suffering.

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  4. hudsongodfrey May 22, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    This is, as Chrys I think rightly identifies, a straight up battle over who owns morality. Is it a matter of absolutes or immutable texts, or do people actually have some right to the exercise of conscience to make decisions for themselves on the merits as they see them?

    I don’t believe that there is a god, and I think it is wrong when others claiming freedom of religion try to tell me that I can’t have freedom from religion, by which they inevitably mean their religion as opposed to anyone else’s.

    We understand the limits of reciprocity in terms of what we can or should be able to do without affecting the rights or interests of others to be the foundational moral precept we apply in making any kind of ethical determination. It cannot so lightly be ignored that making exceptions to this for religio-politically motivated reasons undermines the moral core of a tolerant, pluralistic society insofar as whereas our various religions will try to tell us what is right, society must always at the very least do what is fair.

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  5. samjandwich May 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Human pesticides indeed, hehe!

    What i find interesting is that it almost seems like a non-sequitur for conservatives to be manipulating political processes to get their own way. If their god is so omniponent then wouldn’t his/her legislative amendments always get up, no matter who tried to stop them?

    Thanks Jennifer for alerting us to the lengths these people go to. Never ceases to amaze me.

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    • samjandwich May 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      Good spelling mistake there – “ponent” means “of or pertaining to the west” 🙂

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  6. Teresa May 22, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    Some people simply believe it is always wrong to take a human life – even if that life is your own.

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    • paul walter May 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      Am glad you added that,Teresa.
      I re read parts of the thread starter and discovered that the writer is in remission, concerning an eventually condition. I think I recall reading this but it took this reread for the impact of the statement to hit me.
      I think what you say is another one of these normative things.
      Yes, ideally it is right. But in a world where millions of kids starve to death in a year, it becomes almost an academic argument, “observed more in the breach than observance”.
      I think the Assisted Death argument fulfils much of the need for a response to the argument you mention.
      In at least one form this simply means not fighting to prolong some thing that is already all but finished, the person understands that intensive care is perhaps denied someone else with a better chance and seeks to avoid being the author of another’s downfall through clinging to something that has become painful and a lost cause.
      I think the god of most rational people would have some sympathy for that.
      It’s not a lot different from Christ dying for the benefit of those he loved.
      He could have ran but stayed. Was it suicide?

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      • doug quixote May 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

        Suicide? If you take some of his supposed words literally : “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me?” He actually expected intervention before this point.

        Rather like the Perfected Christians of the Cathar heresy, who walked voluntarily to their stakes to be burned alive, expecting to be uplifted to Heaven by miraculous intervention.

        So disappointing . . .

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        • paul walter May 22, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

          Ahh. But you see, that’s not what I’m getting at.
          Its how you or I would feel in such a situation.
          Would we really be so willing to cheat someone else of a chance?
          As for Christ, if you’d been stuck up there with nails through your wrists for nine hours, I’ll bet you’d be saying the same thing.
          The NT gives the impression that he knew he was for it, but like a true dissident didn’t shirk, although I’d add its a long time since I read a Bible.
          Given my mum’s dying days, I’d be not ungrateful if someone overloads the morph, If I were in such a situation. To sum up, I cant believe any god worthy of the name would begrudge it, if am wrong, then stiff cheddar, what a dud universe.

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    • hudsongodfrey May 22, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

      Some people are wrong. In my experience people being wrong happens quite frequently. When it does then we expect them to be challenged at the point where their right to be wrong intersects with the rights of others to disagree with them.

      In this case it is clear that you should have dominion over your own body, and I over mine. I offer my tolerance and my sincere wishes for a long and healthy life, If on the other hand you choose to fail to reciprocate with respect to some future decision I may make to die with dignity then you must understand that I see no reason to extend tolerance that far.

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      • zerograv1 May 23, 2013 at 8:17 am #

        What I don’t get is that this is a moot argument to me. If you are in a situation where you might want to terminate your final days to avoid suffering, then there is little anyone can do about it. It’s delusional to think the State can realistically intervene unless someone chooses to go public. In this particular circumstance no one can stop you, so why even bother profferring the opinion or wasting parliamentary time on legislating for or against it?

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        • doug quixote May 23, 2013 at 8:47 am #

          The problem exists when the person in question does not have control : eg, a quadriplegic, or someone immobilised like Stephen Hawking (though without the brainpower or the will to live).

          In such a case where someone is in the final stages of a terminal illness, and the pain and indignity become too much to bear.

          A person on the battlefield, torn in half by a blast might say to a friend or even to a stranger “Please shoot me!”

          Would you refuse?

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        • hudsongodfrey May 23, 2013 at 9:45 am #

          People want to be able to have help for a range of reasons. We currently have situations where whenever euthanasia is allowed in a restrictive sense people still have to be able to take an action themselves. That then leads some to the unenviable decision to go earlier than they really need to because that is currently the only way to avoid an undignified end. I have trouble with the idea that people’s wishes can’t be respected by others so that their passing when it becomes inevitable may be eased to some more maximal degree.

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          • helvityni May 23, 2013 at 10:08 am #

            “That then leads some to the unenviable decision to go earlier than they really need to because that is currently the only way to avoid an undignified end.”

            Good point, Hudson.

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        • paul walter May 23, 2013 at 11:16 am #

          The problem is, the people who side with you as to your decision and even assist you, actively or passively, because you are too ill to act on your wish.
          If you feel these people are to likely face state retribution later for their kindness, you are forced to continue until you come to your end.

          The only quibble I have with the thing is, that it may present an opportunity for some to remove defenceless elderly or ill relatives for financial gain, an idea presented on a BBC mystery show years ago that has stuck with me ever since.
          It comes down to what you feel “life”to be.

          If you are lying some where with your insides shot out, as Doug suggests, or lingering through a painful fatal illness you must be entitled to ask if this fits a definition of what “life” should be.
          If the worst of it is still to be considered”life” then bugger life, I’d say.

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          • hudsongodfrey May 23, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

            If people can indicate what they want done with their organs after death, they can certainly record a do not resuscitate provision, why not respect their will in this also?

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            • paul walter May 23, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

              I should bloody-well think so.

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            • samjandwich May 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

              My 95 year-old grandmother died last year, mainly as a result of a heart condition. My mother and her sister, as next of kin, were asked whether, in the event that her heart stopped beating, they would like her to be resuscitated. and were warned that while this may well be successful in restarting her heart and prolonging her life for anything up to a few months, it would be highly traumatic as it would most likely result in broken ribs and so forth from the chest compression process. This happened, and they were asked again, but declined.

              So I guess you could say that was positive for all concerned, and quite permissible given the current legislation. But perhaps we need to make the point here that euthanasia is not suicide, nor is it withholding life-saving treatment, but is asking someone else to kill you. It’s a slightly different kettle of fish. It’s quite a lot to ask IMO, especially of a professional. These things are quite confronting, and the question of best interests is not open and shut. Even if it were legislated for I have my doubts that there would be too many doctors willing to do it.

              So on that score I guess I agree with Jennifer that we need to talk about this issue in more depth – rather than to sweep it off the agenda as the conservatives would have it.

              It certainly seems to me that Hudson and Helvi’s point above is a good place to start.

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  7. sarah toa May 24, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    They probably wouldn’t have called it a ‘good death’, in that they actually died … but my two friends died well. In separate circumstances, they let their loved ones know when they were going, organised their affairs and died well. I would have been more than offended if they’d been stopped in that process. They didn’t ask permission or wait for policy from anyone – and I think that is the answer, at the moment anyway.

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    • Ron Savage May 26, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Here I wish to address the topic of the obsessionality of members of the religious right.

      Consider how ruthless their parents were (presumably) like when they were children.

      But how is the presumption justified? Thusly: The children, as adults, are exhibiting symptoms right now of having been tormented by hyper-moralistic parents. I’ll try to explain:

      These people will be likewise ruthless in the way they treat /their/ children, because they have been taught that that’s the norm.

      This I believe is what Freud meant by Repitition Compulsion – the compulsion to repeat what was done to one as a child, no matter how cruel.

      But as children, they would have had perfectly normal fantasies of self-defence, including disposing of their parents. And yes, these fantasies will necessarily include the fantasy of murder. Of course, as little children they would not have understood all the connotations of such a momumental act.

      Unfortunately, under the domination of such control-freaks (a pathological symptom, remember), they will have been ruthlessly and systematically forbidden the opportunity to express their quite justified anger.

      Consequently, it will have had to be sublimated. What I’m arguing is that now we are seeing the expression of those feelings. And this I think is what Freud called The Return of the Repressed.

      And these feelings are visited on their own children (which is sickening), and on anyone who is involved in deeply emotional activities which re-activate memories of their ghastly childhood
      circumstances.

      In effect, these 2 situations (their children’s availability and other, adult, moral issues), become safety valves for long-suppressed, and terribly overwhelming, feelings. And they avail themselves of the opportunity to let their safety valves blow.

      So, they exhibit this fanaticism to cover up their guilt feelings, left over from the horrific – and for them and their parents, immesurably immoral – fantasies of disposing of their tormentors.

      What you have is pathologically extreme (childhood) feelings about issues which necessarily involve intensely moral issues. And yes, these are precisely the sorts of issues with which such people, as
      adults, become so obsessed.

      And what they do, when grown, to their own children explains why religion is known as a self-perpetuating perversion.

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