Sunday, October 26, 2008

Times calls for review of euthanasia laws

It's always one of those difficult issues. On the one hand, the assertion that you own your life, including the right to terminate it when you choose to do so. On the other hand, the fear that putting that decision in the hands of others creates, however small, the risk that you really didn't want to do it at that point. After all, the decision is irreversible.

Few argue for open slather, after all those who do what is asked of them want legal protection from accusations of murder. However, whilst many defend the status quo I find that morally reprehensible as well.

This is where I think of values. Objectivists value life, but also that you own your life. This means that nobody else can tell you how to live it, or even to live it. Assuming you are sane, there should be no legal barrier to you ending you life, and being able to express that. This is not just about pain, for many who suffer terminal illness also suffer in great agony, or with great despair about what they have lost in dignity and independence.

The Times on Saturday contains a short editorial asking that Parliament reconsider a Bill on death with dignity. This is due to the growing number who go through the effort to be "assisted suicide tourists" to Switzerland.

In New Zealand, of the political leaders, Helen Clark, John Key, Winston Peters, Jeanette Fitzsimons, Tariana Turia and Rodney Hide all voted for the Death with Dignity Bill, Peter Brown's only political moment I give him credit for. Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne were the leaders who voted against it. However, only NZ First and ACT all voted in favour. (Sue Kedgley was opposed, presumably because it wasn't banning anything).

It is a worthy issue to debate, across parties, because this should be about balancing the right to own your life, and the right to terminate it under clear and consistent guidelines. There are legitimate fears about misuse of such a law, but let us not close our eyes to the agony doing nothing creates. Regardless of the political, religious or personal views you may have about it, and how it may apply to those you love, you cannot - ever - have the right to decide what another person does in these circumstances. I know if someone I loved had clearly expressed a will to die under circumstances of great pain, indignity and with no hope for recovery, I would do what I could to end that person's agony.

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