Last week Prime Minister John Key came out publicly in support of voluntary euthanasia, suggesting it was already happening in our hospitals. His comments were based on the fact that doctors sometimes have to make difficult decisions about ceasing life-support in terminal situations. However this is not euthanasia and Key’s suggestion that it is brought a strong response from medical specialists in palliative care.
The chair of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine said Key was “misrepresenting” the care of terminal patients and suggesting doctors were acting illegally and unethically. Even Maryan Street the Labour MP promoting a members bill to legalise euthanasia noted that Key had got it wrong. She was clear that what she wanted was a step much further – the right of individuals to request medical staff to assist them to take their own lives at a time and place that suited them.
To his credit the PM today admitted his comments were a bit “sloppy” and that he never intended to suggest doctors were acting illegally. However his comments not only showed a misunderstanding of what euthanasia is, but they also displayed a simplistic approach to the issue. Simply saying, as Key did, that if he was terminally ill and in pain he would want someone to end his life, suggests he has given little thought to the wider implications of what he is endorsing.
Legislation nearly always carries a cultural message that will impact well beyond its apparent ambit. The message that legalised euthanasia will infuse into our culture is clear – there is such a thing as a life not worth living. In a country with one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, why would our political leaders promote such a concept?