In my previous article, we considered three objections to the legalization of euthanasia. Here, we will consider a further two objections against it, neither of which are derived from religious principles (as was the case in the previous article, too).
4. The Slippery Slope
The “slippery slope” argument is often easily dismissed as irrational by those in favour of euthanasia (and progressive ideas more broadly). However, it’s been repeatedly proven that progressive policies tend to degenerate in concerning and significant ways, and sometimes rather quickly.
When abortion was first legalized, with various restrictions, in South Australia in 1969, many people would probably have thought that abortion up until birth was unacceptable. When the “same-sex marriage” debate was taking place in Australia, people didn’t anticipate that within five years, in some states, it would become a crime to tell someone that homosexual acts are sinful.
The same is true for euthanasia. The initial safeguards and boundaries in euthanasia legislation can end up being expanded to accommodate cases that many would not have initially imagined. In the Netherlands, a twenty-nine-year-old woman was euthanized for her depression, as her condition fit the criteria of “unbearable suffering,” and children as young as twelve are potential candidates for euthanasia. In Queensland, receiving euthanasia for mental suffering (presumably meaning suffering without physical pain) is now allowed for by the draft legislation.
Euthanasia resulting from depression has occurred in at least one case in Canada (despite the legislation requiring that the patient be facing “imminent death”). Victoria’s legislation doesn’t explicitly allow for patients to be euthanized due to mental suffering, but no screening for depression or mental illness is conducted either; doctors are not allowed to question a patient’s claim that their suffering is intolerable while they assess them.
The fact is, euthanizing patients for purely psychological reasons is gravely concerning, or at least shocking, to many people who only think of terminally-ill cancer patients when they think about euthanasia. This is simply not the case, and Australia is increasingly “progressing” in the direction of allowing patients who could be helped to die.
One typical problem with euthanasia legislation is that the criteria for receiving euthanasia are related to an assessment of suffering, which is a very subjective concept. Victoria’s legislation does have various safeguards in place:
(c) the person must have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted
(d) the person must be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that—
(i) is incurable; and
(ii) is advanced, progressive and will cause death; and
(iii) is expected to cause death within weeks or months, not exceeding 6 months; and
(iv) is causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable.
The Act also prohibits people with mental illness or disabilities (as defined in other Acts) from accessing euthanasia. While this criterion is certainly better than having no safeguards, it still raises questions. What exactly does having “decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying” mean? How is “suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable” evaluated? As noted earlier, doctors aren’t allowed to question this, meaning that assessment is made entirely by the patient.
Ethicist John Keown writes:
“Since 1984, official Dutch surveys have shown that thousands of patients have been killed without an explicit request, and thousands of cases have not been reported by doctors to the review committees required to check each case. Why should we expect Victoria’s ‘review board’ to be any more effective in ensuring that the legal criteria are met and that all cases are reported?”
Given the Andrews government’s track record with progressive legislation, it’s a fair question.
5. The right to die can become a duty to die
Two of the most commonly cited reasons for electing to receive euthanasia are the fear of losing one’s autonomy and the fear of being a burden to loved ones. Physical pain actually ranks low in applicants’ considerations, indicating that wanting to receive euthanasia is often the same thing as wanting to commit suicide due to psychological reasons, such as fear of emotional suffering and uncertainty about the future which may be brought on by an illness.
Imagine a sick, elderly person whose illness is about to kill them. Imagine this person has a family. In ideal circumstances, their family would be with them, care for them, comfort them and farewell them at the end of their life. Sadly, these family members are too selfish to do so, and can’t be bothered putting in the time and effort to see it through. The elderly person is left to suffer on their own, and when their family, whether explicitly or implicitly, make it clear that they don’t want to fulfil their obligations, the person decides to end their life quickly rather than continue.
Perhaps the person’s family would actually care for them, but they are overwhelmed with anxiety about being a burden and opt for euthanasia without talking it through with their family first. It is not difficult to conceive that these situations may occur at least occasionally, if not frequently. In Canada, loneliness during a COVID lockdown drove one elderly woman to euthanasia. Clearly, loneliness and fear are strong motivators for ending one’s own life.
Legalizing euthanasia creates the potential for the most vulnerable and lonely to feel that they have no other option but death. As noted in the previous article, the focus must be on providing the most excellent palliative care possible, not making it easier for patients to die. Palliative care workers do a wonderful job, and can often provide at least a measure of comfort to patients in their final days.
You don’t have to be religious to be against euthanasia, you just need to have a grasp of human nature.