I was saddened to read that Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have changed their minds and now support some form of euthanasia, apparently on the basis of limited evidence.
The main reason Lord Carey gives is that of compassion for those with unbearable suffering. He particularly quotes the case of the late Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from severe paralysis and wanted help to end his life.
When I saw the TV footage of Mr Nicklinson being transferred in a sling, I too felt compassion. However, as an MS patient who often dangles in a sling in order to have my personal care attended to, I also thank God for the medical and social services that are available to support life in such conditions and also for the compassion and commitment of the carers.
Compassion is best shown by extending palliative and long-term care to all who need it. Ironically, Lord Falconer’s bill applies only to the terminally ill and would not have applied to Tony Nicklinson. There would inevitably be demands to widen the qualifying criteria and it would be impossible to devise strong enough safeguards to protect vulnerable groups.
Desmond Tutu was heavily influenced by the prolonged dying process of his friend Nelson Mandela. He felt the use of artificial means to prolong his life carried out under the glare of media publicity was demeaning to Mandela’s dignity. I have a lot of sympathy with that. Human dignity demands privacy at such times and the means used to support life should be proportionate to the needs of the dying person. There comes a time during the dying process when attempts at burdensome and ineffective curative measures must stop, but support and palliation should continue to the end. This, however, is not euthanasia.
Of course it is right to use mechanical means to preserve life when appropriate. For instance, some people rely on electric ventilators to help them breathe and they are happy this enables them to live as independently as possible. We should be thankful for all the modern technical advances which sustain life.
Archbishop Tutu also appears to say that money spent on treating dying people and the elderly would be better spent on young people. This is an extremely dangerous line of argument.
In this time of financial stringency, elder abuse and global population growth, the weak and vulnerable may well be put under pressure not to be a burden on society if any form of euthanasia legislation is passed.
(Rev Dr) Donald M MacDonald