That this house would legalise euthanasia
In wondering what pieces to write for my blog, if there’s a topic that I’m interested enough in to deliver a seven-minute speech on it in a debate, I should be able to muster a few hundred words on it here. I speak a few times during the year at the debates of the College Historical Society (having in the past organized these debates as Correspondence Secretary), so I plan to write up my thoughts on those debates, at least the ones from this Session.
On 21 October, I gave the second speech on the proposition to the motion, “That this house would legalise euthanasia”. This was the third time we had held this debate during my time in the society, but the first time I had spoken.
For me, it is ultimately a question of compassion. As a strong believer in individual rights, I also see it in those terms, but that philosophical and moral justification is secondary. Though we may not be able to imagine the feeling of a desire to die, we should not doubt the sincerity of those who express this wish. These are often people who are otherwise emotionally sound, but feel at this time such a level pain that they wish to end it and their live. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, I think it makes sense to advocate this possibility only for those who are terminally ill.
The two main arguments presented against the proposition were the value we put on life, expressed at times from an explicitly Christian point of view, and that treatment at the end of life is improving, and that if we give up on people at this point, we won’t develop the research into this care.
On the first of these, euthanasia may be something that we disagree with fundamentally, whether as a religious belief, as simply a deep-held belief in fighting to the end. But those coming from that point of view have to acknowledge that such stances are their personal beliefs, and while they may carry through on this in their own lives, in society at large, we should not seek to enforce such general views on the population at large, and that on other matters we don’t. In a republican society, no one should have to act on such a fundamental matter in a way that others feel is right, even if it is the belief of the majority.
From a medical point of view, I can understand the grave difficulties physicians could have with euthanasia, devoting their careers to preserving life, and for those who research in the area. Of course, no doctor should be compelled to take part in the process at any stage. But those who are suffering here and now should not be asked to continue to suffer, to sacrifice themselves, for the sake of future benefit. There are equally many doctors who have found ways to put their patients out of pain, even if if that meant death, such as by agreeing with them on a high level of painkillers, ostensibly to relieve the pain, but both knowing that it could result in death, and willing to accept that.
A common practical objection is that those who are vulnerable could be pressured to go through with the situation. This is a legitimate concern, but a 2007 report of the Journal of Medical Ethics found no evidence of abuse in the 12 years euthanasia had been in place with a strong regulatory system in Oregon, where it designed to be safe, legal and rare.
This is ultimately no more than my personal feeling, having given the matter thought. I have been fortunate not to have had to consider these questions more directly than this. But I do feel that those who can relieve their suffering should not be prevented from acting on one of the few areas they still have control over should they so wish.
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