A dying man’s view on Euthanasia

Profound words from a dying man

I cannot speak for all people who suffer from illness and disability, but think I can speak more credibly about suffering, illness and disability than those people who advocate for euthanasia presenting an ideological view of suffering and disability.  Facing illness and disability takes courage and we do not need those euthanasia advocates to tell us that we are so lacking dignity and have such a poor quality of life that our lives are not worth living.

 

For several years, until I objected, I received from my health insurer a letter that tells me how much it costs the fund to maintain my health care.  I dreaded receiving that letter and the psychological reasoning that would seem to have motivated it.  Each year I was reminded how much of a burden I am to my community.  The fear of being a burden is a major risk to the survival of those who are chronically ill.  If euthanasia were lawful, that sense of burden would be greatly increased for there would be even greater moral pressure to relinquish one’s hold on a burdensome life.  Seriously ill people do not need euthanasia. We need better provision of palliative care services aimed at managing symptoms and maximising function, especially as we approach death.  Rather than help to die, the cause of dignity would be more greatly helped if more was done to help people live more fully with the dying process.

The proposal to make provision for a terminally person who is suffering to request, and a doctor to provide, assistance to die makes it less likely that adequate efforts will be made to make better provision for palliative care services.  Legalised euthanasia would give those responsible for funding and providing palliative care a political “out” in that respect.

In Australia, too little is done to make adequate palliative care available to those who need it:

  • Current entry requirements for palliative care usually exclude people with chronic pain and is often limited to people who are in the last stage of cancer with a prognosis of less than eight weeks;

  • The pharmaceutical subsidies for the more effective forms of pain relief are often restricted to cancer patients;

  • People living outside major cities have little access to palliative care facilities.  • Few doctors are adequately trained to provide palliative care.

  • Such palliative care services as exist are chronically underfunded and struggle to provide the complex range of services that are needed to assist a person to live with pain and disability.

  • Most pain clinics are over subscribed and have long waiting lists.  For people who are left suffering, such waiting is unconscionable.

Medical research in this area indicates that the desire for euthanasia is not confined to physical or psychosocial concerns relating to advanced disease, but incorporates hidden existential yearnings for connectedness, care and respect, understood within the context of the patient’s lived experience. Euthanasia requests cannot be taken at face value but require in-depth exploration of their covert meaning, in order to ensure that the patients’ needs are being addressed adequately.  In Australia, what is needed is often not available or not available in time.  It is distressing to note that in the US State of Oregon in 2009, none of the patients who were lawfully killed at their own request were referred for formal psychiatric or psychological evaluation.  It is also distressing to note that two thirds of people lawfully killed under euthanasia laws, in those jurisdictions that permit it, are women.

If euthanasia is a legitimate option with a determined structure, such as was the case in the Northern Territory for a brief period, and is now proposed for South Australia, then life for the chronically seriously ill would become contingent upon maintaining a desire to continue in the face of being classified as a burden to others.  Essentially the Bill involves setting up a category for people whose lives may be deliberately ended.  Their protected status as a member of the South Australian and Australian communities depends on a contingency.  Passage of the Bill would imply that our community considers that our continued survival depends on us not succumbing to the effects of pain and suffering, depends on us not losing hope.

Read the whole letter here.
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Barth on Christian suffering

Came across this quote in my exam prep. Food for thought –

“If, then, a man is not oppressed by his environment, if he has nothing serious to fear or to suffer at its hands, he has reason carefully to ask at least whether and how far he is genuinely a Christian at all and not fundamentally self-deceived in this respect.” – Karl Barth

 

Sufferers make strong believers

Spurgeon on suffering…

It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. (Lamentations 3:27)

This is as good as a promise. It has been good, it is good, and it will be good for me to bear the yoke.

Early in life I had to feel the weight of conviction, and ever since it has proved a soul-enriching burden. Should I have loved the gospel so well had I not learned by deep experience the need of salvation by grace? Jabez was more honorable than his brethren because his mother bare him with sorrow, and those who suffer much in being born unto God make strong believers in sovereign grace.

The yoke of censure is an irksome one, but it prepares a man for future honor. He is not fit to be a leader who has not run the gauntlet of contempt. Praise intoxicates if it be not preceded by abuse. Men who rise to eminence without struggle usually fall into dishonor.

The yoke of affliction, disappointment, and excessive labor is by no means to be sought for; but when the Lord lays it on us in our youth, it frequently develops a character which glorifies God and blesses the church.

Come, my soul, bow thy neck; take up they cross. It was good for thee when young; it will not harm thee now. For Jesus’ sake, shoulder it carefully.

(from desiringgod.org)

Bonhoeffer on suffering

It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one’s own personal, responsible deed. It is infinitely easier to suffer in company than alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and with honour than out of the public eye and  in disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through staking one’s life than to suffer spiritually. Christ suffered in freedom, alone, out of the public eye and in disgrace, in body and spirit; and since then many Christians have suffered with him.

From Letters and Papers from Prison.

Solving the problem of evil

Henri Blocher says this of the problem of evil

God wills what is good directly, simply, for himself; he wills evil only in a different manner, while hating it at the same time. Whereas God himself works good by making it, evil is always the deed of one or of several created beings.

A young Augustine said

Evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains*

It’s no surprise that my study group was unable to solve the problem of evil today. But there were 2 things that we reflected on, however briefly, that I think are worth further thought.

First – when we are in the middle of evil or suffering, knowing that we have a God who has also been in the middle of great and real evil and suffering, actually does help

Second – the apparent tension of a sovereign God who is responsible and yet not culpable for evil is a logical and philosophical nightmare! And yet when we move from theory to experience, it’s often easier to grasp. We may not be able to articulate it, but when we look retrospectively at suffering we often can see both things, and understand them together, with greater clarity

It feels easier to have these discussion in the abstract, but it can be the experience that adds richness to our understanding.

*An older Augustine was slightly bemused at his younger self. In his early days he wrote a book called Beauty and Proportion which he later had all copies burned. His older self elaborated on this privation theory of evil, adding the personal element of our distorted desires