Philip Nitschke believes in liberty. In particular he believes in the right of a human being to die when he wishes to. He does not believe a government should trump that right.
I think, in principle – somewhat unexpectedly – I agree with Nitschke. Thus far.
I have seen my patients suffering intolerable pain that will not end. Governments, lawmakers, do not sit in the bedrooms of the dying. They cannot know how deeply disqualified they are here.
Nitschke has been a gadfly irritating the conscience of this country for decades now. I have felt an instinctive distance from him, quite unreasoned, candidly prejudicial. It was not until he declared (in response to questioning in a recent interview) that his philosophic touchstones are Camus, Marcuse and Nietsche, that my finger suddenly touched on the point of prejudice: Nitschke – Nietsche. The latter is a name to which no Jew can be insensitive. Like Wagner, like Eliot, a name carries echoes. I read Nietsche and I hear echoes of “Man and Superman”. Vibrating behind, the euthanasing of the ‘untermentsch’ in the Third Reich.
Nitschke thinks the euthanasing of people who are “tired of life”, as proposed in the Netherlands, is reasonable. The so-called Groningen Protocol spells out criteria for infant euthanasia. The Belgian Senate approved by landslide proposals to extend euthanasia to children and to “people suffering dementia and other diseases of the brain.” The Royal Dutch Medical Association believes doctors can euthanase children because “a doctor’s primary duty of care is towards the patient.”
All this makes me shake my head. I know next to nothing of Nietsche, I have seen none of the context of the deliberations of my colleagues in the Royal Dutch Medical Association; I know nought of the Groningen Protocols (‘protocols’ – another word that echoes, echoes, echoes).
What do I know?
I know the problems of suffering are grievous.
I know that the ethical burdens are weighty.
I know just as severe pain cries out for relief, so societal dilemmas cry out for solution. People look to lawmakers to solve the problem by making a law. A law will be a relief, a slogan to comfort us.
I don’t believe that all problems can be solved by lawmakers.
I believe lawmakers have no right to legislate for one citizen to kill another.
I know there are some laws that some people will not carry out; and all too many others will.
I have no doubt that a society that authorises doctors to kill, kills trust in doctors.
Clearly what I know and what I think are insufficient. They are incoherent, not a policy, not a solution.
Human suffering cannot be outlawed.
Law is not the solution.
We are bound to pursue a solution.
But we might never find that solution.