There’s a question that I have put to those who are pushing for euthanasia and assisted suicide laws on occasion. Put simply I ask: If you are successful in your push for law reform on this subject, will you celebrate your victory and then close down your organisation? After all, if the objective is reached, what else is there to do?
I expect that there would be ‘rank-and-file’ members of the various societies and organisations on this bandwagon who may well think: job done, back to the gardening (or other pursuits). But not so the leadership.
Unless a parliament is willing, in the first instance, to legislate euthanasia and assisted suicide for everyone in any circumstance, there will always be more to agitate for. Of course, such a bold initial push is never likely to happen. That’s why, in observing repeated attempts to legislate in my home state of South Australia, we see variations on the theme in the many different ways that bills have been designed and presented, all with the primary goal of getting something (anything!) on the statutes. Go for the full agenda and failure is guaranteed; go for a minimalist approach and maybe success will come, enabling, thereafter, the possibility of an incremental agenda.
We are seeing this in Canada at the moment with the excise of euthanasia and assisted suicide for minors and for mental health issues from the debate and the promise of revisiting that agenda in three years’ time. Even in Belgium, which enacted the most liberal of euthanasia laws in 2002, we saw the amendment to include children pass in the parliament in 2013. In Holland there is continued agitation for euthanasia under the term ‘tired of life’ or ‘completed life’, ostensibly for people over the age of 70. The Dutch parliament is also looking into child euthanasia whilst already having euthanasia available for ‘emancipated minors’ from the age of 12.
Today the Dutch news is reporting that two euthanasia organisations are renewing their push for the so-called ‘Drion Pill’ to be available ‘for people who do not qualify for euthanasia.’
Note: Drion's pill is a suicide pill proposed originally by Huib Drion, a former Dutch Supreme Court judge and professor of civil law. He argued that people aged 75 or over should be able to end their own lives.
The Dutch Times says that ‘The NVVE wants to launch a test with a suicide pill for people age 75 years and older next year. The Cooperatie Laatste Wil wants the experiment to include all legal adults, people 18 years and older.’
The report adds that both groups will soon submit proposals for such ‘experiments’ and that the Dutch Democrats will propose such an experiment ‘by the end of the year’ with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy signalling possible support.
What they expect to find from such an ‘experiment’ is not stated. I’m guessing that deaths will be marked as a success.
Imagine the pressure felt by elderly people in Holland if this pill were ever made available. Rather than people necessarily justifying a request to be made dead, their elderly will find themselves having to justify their will to live!
Even here we see the possibility of a further incremental agenda with one group pushing for more (all adults) than the other (over 75 years of age).
Note well that this agenda is for those who would not qualify for euthanasia. So, while there is no suggestion of a reform to the Dutch euthanasia law of 2001 – one form of incrementalism – we can clearly observe that the broader agenda of the euthanasia groups is still served by this move.
Consider also that if such an idea was presented to parliaments in countries where euthanasia and assisted suicide remained illegal it would be laughed out of session and dismissed as being totally unacceptable. The link between the existence of a euthanasia and assisted suicide regime and the development of what would otherwise be unthinkable cannot be denied.
Make no mistake, once a society accepts that killing patients or helping them to suicide is an acceptable response to any kind of suffering, there is no limit that will hold.
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Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition