August 27, 2014

Horse 1741 - Euthanasia - Human Dignity?

Imagine for a second that the year is 2024. In the August election which has just been held, the government led by former Prime Minister Penny Wong was defeated 79-71 by incoming Wyatt Roy's Liberal Government; which also has a friendly Senate.
Medicare it is argued is too expensive to continue and the Medicare Australia Act 1973 has been repealed.

In this brave new world of market driven health care, hospitals are looking to lower input costs to drive profits even harder. In this new legislative environment, the rate of patients suddenly being euthanised has skyrocketed. How did this happen?
Back in the day whilst Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister, the Euthanasia and Patient Consent Act of 2017 proved fairly easy to pass with both sides of the chamber declaring it a triumph of "human dignity". Patients "right to die" was extended in Commonwealth legislation for the first time.

Of course the "right to die" is supposed to be safeguarded with a legal instrument of consent or via a Power of Attorney but as we all know, these things in practice are incredibly easy to obtain; both in periods of calm and chaos in peoples' lives.
Suddenly a legal instrument signed five years ago and mostly forgotten, has all the importance of a Presidential Order and all the force of an express train meeting an egg at 100mph.

It is curious, that mainly poorer people are being euthanised. One of the consequences of a market driven system is that price looms as a very large factor in decision making. Poorer people who have less market power and less of an ability to pay very large bills, can be more easily coerced into giving their "consent".
It is also strange that people who face bankruptcy as a result of expensive medical bills, also find it easier to give their "consent" to being euthanised, thus creating a bankrupt estate, where not even creditors can chase any more.

Does this sound far fetched? Remember, it is only a few short steps away and the Law of Unintended Consequences isn't very far away either.

Admittedly my moral compass is informed by my Christianity. I just don't think that anyone has the right to take a life; not even their own. It seems to be that given human nature, in every single circumstance where there is the capability to abuse the system, someone invariably will. Introduce the factor of profits that can be increased by simply eliminating expensive patients and amazingly so called "human dignity" dissolves in the wake of economic necessity.
When even death itself can be reduced to the status of a cost driver, the concept of human dignity becomes a nonsense.

In my line of work, I frequently see instances where someone has been coerced into doing something, which they never would otherwise intend to do. Once a contract or a legal instrument has been signed though, it is often difficult to show that duress has taken place or even that the terms of a contract are unfair because it is often easier to prove that there has been a reasonable degree of consent applied.
In the case of euthanasia, where someone would probably require signing a legal instrument which would end their own life, to later go back and show that duress or unfairness existed, all seems rather pointless after someone is dead.
Again, to argue about "human dignity" also seems pointless after someone is dead, irrespective of whichever God, god, gods or complete lack thereof you happen to believe in. It should be obvious to all that with euthanasia, there is no "undo"; the decision is irreversible.

John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty" (1859) said that:
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
I think that the argument against euthanasia, even against some people's will, is to prevent harm to others. Does it really promote "human dignity" to reduce some people to the status of an input cost?
That world of 2024 I described is only a few pieces of legislation away. I don't want to live in that world. I hope we never ever get there.

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