Sydney Morning Herald 20 May 2015
As a clinical psychologist, one of my roles when working with terminally ill individuals is to assist them to contain and tolerate their complex feelings of distress, fear, abandonment, helplessness and pain –physical and/or emotional. This is “true compassion” and empathy: accompanying someone during their unavoidable pain and suffering.
Treating people with dignity is providing care, compassion and company to those in desperate need of it, as they face their greatest fear: death.
Being in favour of assisted suicide goes against the principle that all life is precious. Euthanasia supports the view that human dignity or worth is dependent upon one’s health status or capabilities, rather than it being dependent upon simply being human. Assisted suicide promotes a utilitarian view of humanity, where we judge whose life is worthwhile and whose is not, based on their medical status or capabilities.
Doctors and other health practitioners who support euthanasia will be communicating an implicit message to the patient that “I agree with you, your life is no longer worth living”. First, by whose standards would we judge whose life is not worthwhile any more and whose is? Second, this implicit message, instead of alleviating the helplessness, will instead reinforce the helplessness and the hopelessness the patient is feeling.
Euthanasia changes the definition and role of a doctor from an expert in healing and helping the patient to be restored to health, to being expert in prescribing drugs to end life. Doctors to whom I have spoken informed me this goes against the Hippocratic oath they take when they become doctors to do no harm, and that this oath would likely need to be changed or excluded in their training, if laws allowing euthanasia were to be enacted. Do we really want this?