Assisted suicide becomes a matter for Cheer – Maryan’s euthanasia bill to get more TV treatment

Alf is thinking this morning on the issue of voluntary euthanasia and whether it should be legal for him to help Mrs Grumble hasten her journey to the hereafter, should she have damned good reasons for wanting to go there but needs his assistance.

No, there’s nothing ailing Mrs Grumble. She is in good health.

This is a matter of musing on the principles of voluntary euthanasia, or assisted suicide, or whatever you care to call it.

An outfit called Triangle Television has banged out a media statement, reminding us that Maryan Street’s Private Member’s Bill – waiting to be balloted – has re-opened the “voluntary euthanasia” debate.

The media statement advises that the guest this week In Conversation with Noel Cheer on Triangle Television will give her views on “an area that is deeply contentious and polarising and one where there is much misinformation”.

Clarifying some of the issues is Dr Phillipa Malpas, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Medical Ethics in the Department of Psychological Medicine in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland.

The issue was examined on TVNZ’s Q + A on July 1, when Maryan Street and a pro-lifer, Alex Schadenberg, took part in something billed as a euthanasia debate.

Schadenberg is a champion of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and his objection to Street’s bill is that it would allow someone to be involved in or to actually cause the death of another person.

“So this is the whole crux of the issue. We’re not actually talking about suicide, where you do it yourself. We’re talking about somebody else being involved.

“And so you have a serious situation here where…you’re actually then saying, can we actually divorce the attitude of the person who’s doing the act from the person who might be even requesting the act?

Street’s counter to that included –

“For people who have been vibrant, self-determining individuals throughout their life not to be able to be self-determining in their death seems to be lacking in compassion, particularly when they are, as the situation in my bill would require, terminally ill or suffering from an irrecoverable condition and their quality of life has got to a stage where they can no longer bear it.”

She recognises the need for safeguards.

Her legislation would require two medical practitioners who, quite separately, must attest to the mental competence of the person.

The person who wants his/her death hastened would have to be of sound mind.

“They have to either have a terminal illness or an irrecoverable condition, but be of sound mind or have put down in writing an end-of-life directive that says, “Should this situation occur and I become mentally incompetent, then I would like these things to happen.”

This issue is taxing law-makers in other countries.

Mrs Grumble dug up this opinion piece, which was prompted by the renewed push by British MPs to review the current guidelines regarding assisted suicide on compassionate grounds.

Lord Falconer, who heads The Commission on Assisted Dying, has reported that the current legal status is inadequate and incoherent.

But there are concerns that the elderly could be vulnerable to those who don’t have their best interests at heart.

The writer of the opionion piece contrasted the decline of her father with that of her dog.

For the past six years, I have watched my father deteriorate to a point where he has lived in diapers for the past four, didn’t recognise either of his two daughters or remember my mother, his wife, who was the love of his life. He could not feed himself. He lived but he did not have a life. He passed away in his sleep two weeks ago at the age of 94. He had batted nine good innings but just as in baseball, there is no prescribed limit to how long a game can go into overtime.

Our beloved 14-year-old cocker spaniel Sammy who has lived for the past six months with senile dementia, blindness, a lack of bowel control and use of his legs, was put to sleep yesterday. With our dog we were allowed to choose when to end his life so that he could die with dignity and achieve a ‘good death’.

We were not allowed that option with my father.

Things are moving in Canada, too.

In Vancouver, A Supreme Court Judge recently decided that the Criminal Code provisions making physician-assisted death illegal are invalid.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled that the current law violates the constitutional rights of the three plaintiffs who led the landmark legal challenge.

This raised the dander of the Catholic archbishop of Vancouver who is calling on the provincial government to appeal the landmark ruling.

Friday’s decision to strike down the law against euthanasia “sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Michael Miller in a statement.

“True liberty means the freedom to live one’s life secure in the knowledge that those who care for us are in dedicated to the service of life, not the taking of life.”

We get a bit more feel for what this is all about by checking out what’s happening in Switzerland.

With the number of people availing of assisted suicide in Switzerland up 60 per cent over the past five years, policymakers want to improve access to palliative care to alleviate the widespread fear of dying badly.

The two main Swiss assisted suicide organisations – Exit and Dignitas – made it possible for 560 people to end their lives in 2011. This equates to one in three of all suicides in Switzerland.

While the right to die is consistently backed by a majority of the electorate, there are details within the practice of assisted suicide that split opinion, such as the vote in canton Vaud last month over exercising the right to die in a residential care home.

Voters in the French-speaking canton accepted the local government’s proposal to oblige nursing homes and hospitals to accept the practice only when the person in question is suffering from an incurable illness or injury.

Outside of this exception, the only condition imposed by Swiss law is that patients commit the act themselves and helpers have no vested interest in their death.

Yeah, maybe Alf should wait to see if Street’s bill is actually drawn from the ballot before thinking too much more about all this.

He fancies any law that reduces the numbers of lefties and greenies on this planet, but this one doesn’t seem capable of being shaped to meet that worthy objective.

Instead, he he has given some thought to his own situation, should he find himself unable to help himself.

Long ago he bought and (with friends) consumed a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne, a whopper of a bottle, able to hold 15 litres.

It is now full of Scotch and sits under his bed.

It has a tube that will allow Alf to suck to his heart’s content or until the bottle needs refilling.

When he no longer can suck, then life will suck. It will be time to go.

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