Oct 19, 2017

Rundle: those opposed to euthanasia are on the side of reason

People opposed to euthanasia are not the "emotional" ones. And, for the moment, it is impossible to justify voluntary assisted dying from a left perspective.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


“These people are reacting with emotion, not reason,” it was opined on this morning’s Jon Faine show on Radio Melbourne/774/3LO/SigmaSixGuthrieSound, whatever it’s called these days. The talk was of those advancing the “no” case against voluntary assisted dying, a bill for which is now coming up for a final vote in the Victorian Parliament. It will probably pass, though more narrowly than its proponents might have hoped. I hope it won’t, at least for the moment, so that the issue can be debated in a more expansive and comprehensive fashion. Those voting on the bill who are wavering, should err on the side of prudence and vote it down, for the moment.

It is commonly suggested that a pro-voluntary assisted dying (VAD hereafter — hereafter, haha, oh come on … ) position is on the side of “reason”, opposition on that of “emotion”. The “emotion” side is then condescended to as a valuable corrective, safeguard, etc, to what is assumed to be the necessary course of history. I would put it in exactly the reverse: the argued case against VAD is the one employing critical reason. It is the unthinking “yes” case that is not rational, but ideological. It simply reproduces the individualist liberalism that surrounds it as if it were the truth, not a particular and partial way to live.

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68 thoughts on “Rundle: those opposed to euthanasia are on the side of reason

  1. aliso6

    you try living the suffering of others; most of what I’ve heard of the no case, arrogant doctors/religious who want their positions protected for no “intellectual” reason, other than I know best.

    I would rather be “emotional” with love and compassion.

    1. Desmond Graham

      Is that the meaning of the endearment ‘luv you to death” – very emotional. 🙂

      1. Richard

        Unhelpful, unkind, unfeeling.

    2. tonysee

      While I accept ‘most of what you’ve heard’, Aliso, it’s not the argument put by Rundle. I would also hate to try to take the emotion or compassion out of the debate … in fact, I think it would be impossible. What concerns me though is the dominance of the ‘compassion’ response. I think what Rundle is saying is that we need more. If compassion is the basis for our response then other groups and individuals, also deserving of our compassion, are going to say ‘why not me?’.

  2. Desmond Graham

    State sanctioned Homicide comes in defined legislative forms 1 War [carried out by licensed soldiers] 2 Death penalty for Crime [ carried out by state employed executioners]. The death penalty in Australia has been abolished. It is being replaced by Euthanasia a new form of state sanctioned Homicide. Therefore the State should appoint a formal class executioners – perhaps called Euthanasists.

    The European experience shows that over 50% of those euthanised DO NOT give consent as we understand legal consent – due to multiple factors ,coma, drug induced decision making or merely that the decision makers are advised by close relatives whose motives are varied [ranging from the stress of seeing the plight of the very ill to merely dealing with an inconvenient problem] but provided the process is complete it is deemed valid.
    Once legislated – the process and processing takes over. if the process as regulated is followed no problems. We all know government regulations degenerate into ‘tick & flick’ – just generates more paperwork.

    1. Richard

      50%?? I call that an outright lie. To receive a retraction, provide authentic source.

  3. Richard King

    Thanks Guy for a fascinating piece. What you say about the construction of the self around (economic) use really strikes a chord. 7.30 featured a story last night on problems in the implementation of the NDIS, and one of the interviewees — a woman with spinal muscular atrophy — said that while she knew her treatment/care was costing a lot, she’d also put a lot ‘back’ (in terms of work, taxes etc.). Clearly it’s important for her self-esteem to think like that — God knows, I’m not criticising her for a second — but it’s sad in a way that we feel the need to justify our existence in such terms.

    I also like what you say about the liberal view of human beings as ‘separate and sovereign, selves inside a body’ … I recommend Terry Eagleton’s recent book on materialism (especially the chapter on Marx) to anyone wanting to dig down into/push back against this construct a bit …

  4. Desmond Graham

    Great for Tourism Victoria – a whole new marketing push for the economy- for instance , can have a slogan for number plates – Dying to see Victoria.

  5. PaulM

    The last three paragraphs capture my opinion almost exactly. Proponents of VAD are wont to argue their case on the basis of ‘ personal choice’. However, when not all options are available or equally accessible, personal choice is constrained.

  6. Kelly

    I agree. And how many people – Indigenous, poor, the disabled – wouldn’t even be facing death so young, painful or otherwise, if their healthcare needs were better met in the first place?

    1. Richard

      There is a huge difference between inadequate basic medical care throughout life and inadequate palliative care to prolong to the bitter end inevitable biological entropy. Of course, palliative care personnel will argue for more and more, promising better and better outcomes (??) for those, many/most of whom if consulted, just want to die. FFS.

  7. Random-Thought

    “Because there is no doubt that people who want weeks or months more of life, will have themselves killed because the care is not there to support them in that desire. Those people taking that option will be disproportionately poor, indigenous, and disabled.”

    What is the current alternative? Without VAD, these people have to endure their suffering for those weeks or months because they still can’t afford that care.

    I have no idea whether VAD should be legalised. I hear arguments from both sides that I agree with. I would like the option if I were in the position to need it, but also don’t want disadvantaged people to get to a position where they feel pressured to use it.

  8. Jackol

    Palliative care is only one of the end-of-life issues.

    There are scenarios (and certainly some of this is not even included in the proposed Victorian bill due to its very conservative nature) where no amount of high quality palliative care will alleviate the suffering involved.

    * Mental degeneration to the point of having no capacity to engage socially;
    * Physical degeneration where any physical activity is impossible.

    Now, clearly, the amount that this impacts on the quality of any person’s life depends on what they value. Someone who has spent their life pursuing outdoor activities who suddenly finds themselves completely unable to participate in that may – in my opinion completely reasonably – decide that that makes their life no longer worth living.

    And progressive dementia – and I know it’s not covered by the Victorian legislation, but it is a big issue for me personally in terms of how I would like to go out, and it should be included in the scope of future legislation – is terrifying. I don’t want to live through that, being forced to live on as a physical shell with nothing of note going on inside. All the palliative care in the world doesn’t solve the horror of this.

    Guy, you talk about what is ‘rational’, but you use this as (a seemingly throwaway) part of your argument:

    Life has made it hard for us to kill ourselves

    I’m not sure how that qualifies as any part of a ‘rational’ argument. It is, if anything, an argument saying that it is somehow ‘not right’ to work around biological imperatives. Yet most of what we call civilization is working around what evolution has bequeathed us. It’s not an argument. If humans were meant to fly they would have wings, etc.

    1. Dog's Breakfast

      True enough Jackol. I’m not yet retired but the light at the end of the tunnel is clear and growing. I work on keeping myself in some shape, having played sports and been relatively active all my life. Ridiculously, surfing and golf give my life meaning, trivial pursuits with non-trivial effects. I can’t be the only one.

      Dementia, on the other hand, scares me little. I’ll likely get a long way before then, and my sense is that the suffering in it is in the prior knowledge less than the actual experience.
      With apologies, not really relevant to the topic, just avoiding more spreadsheets – another trivial pursuit with non-trivial effects, sucking the meaning out of my life, for which I need surfing and golf.

      Don’t get me wrong though, family are pretty useful to.

    2. Richard

      Exactly. The pro-life disciples would refuse you the right to a “living will”, preferring to see you (if they dared) trying to remember your own name so you could write in on the wall of your little room, in your own shit.

    3. john tingey

      As the son of a man who has had parkinsons for 30 years, that is the nail on the head. It’s not all about people dying of something like cancer. He’s probably got dementure now but its hard to diagnose in a person effectively ‘locked in’. After 30 years of treatment with drugs that have phsycoactive effects, he couldn’t opt out even if he wanted to. If everyone got the same level of excellent palliative care, what if we decide its not good enough? judgement of medical treatment efficacy is absolutely subjective, some of the complaints i hear about medical treatment show an amazing lack of understanding of what medicine is capable of (i got my education through thirty years of hearing about the next “major breakthrough” in parkinsons treatment, and then referencing it against my lived experience). The issue isn’t palliative care, its about the way we approach the subject of death. The one thing we all get to do.

  9. Dog's Breakfast

    A really thoughtful and rational piece Guy, and I can’t argue. It’s just that it seems that “universal, free and unlimited top-rate palliative care” is so unlikely as to make the rational choice to go after something that does seem achievable, VAD.

    And that is a rational rejoinder to your rational argument.

  10. Will

    I dunno, Guy. You appear to be saying that because we’re a neoliberal society a VAD will invariably lead to murder. And so we must first institute unlimited, world-best, public palliative care, such as no neoliberal society could ever possibly countenance. Which means, VAD’s unthinkable until the unthinkable happens: a society that mandates involuntary terminal suffering finds within itself the sense and decency to cast off neoliberalism. I think you’re asking the impossible.

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