Our government is engaged in changing the laws to permit the intentional ending of life under certain strictly limited and regulated conditions. I understand the persons authorised to end those carefully defined lives will be medical practitioners. The government did not ask this practitioner for his view. They didn’t seek my approval or consent. But the government is OUR government, elected democratically by citizens like me. Governments make laws; that is their legal right and function. Legality of course is not a synonym for wisdom, nor for morality.
In 1963 I won my school’s Oratory contest with my speech on this subject. To win a speaking contest at a Jewish school is a great distinction: Jews are born talking, debating, arguing.
I argued against euthanasia. The adjudicator awarded me the prize, describing my address as ‘rousing’. That was in 1963 when I was seventeen and my moral world was simple. I would not give that same speech today. It smacked of demagoguery. It was certainly complacent.
In the threescore years since I have brought people into this life and I have seen others to its exit. I have not pushed anyone through the exit, at least not by intent. I have seen many people die in peace and a smaller number die in agony. My thinking developed to the point where I felt I had no right to deprive a person of the free choice to exit. That is I felt the living person alone knew best whether her life was tolerable; and no other person could decide that better than she. Ultimately her life was her property. In many cases I wished silently for the patient’s release.
But I never came to the feeling that I had the right to end a life. After years, sometimes decades, of caring for a patient, I might become her most painful disappointment.
Soon or sooner the law will change. That is the wish of the electors. Governments will stipulate that a doctor be the person who carries out the intentional ending of life. Government and patients will find me disappointing. Some will find my nonaction to be arrogant. I will have no defense to offer a critic. The ending of a life which is intolerable to its living owner cries out for a solution. I do not have the solution. I am not the solution.
I am unsure whether changing a law actually resolves these agonies.
Another doctor’s view:
Euthanasia: an emphatic no from this GP
I’m sorry you feel you could not give this final relief. I am a convert to assisted dying (this is not euthanasia – which implies someone else’s decision that you should die). My feeling has always been that adults who are dying should have some choice about their death, and seeing three dear relatives all the way to death, I am now utterly convinced that such choice should be available. I understand that in states in America where such choice is available, of those who take up the option only a small proportion use the drugs supplied. But, those who receive the drugs and do not use them, are much calmer and happier, for knowing that they have control and can die should they feel they have had enough.
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I owe you a more considered response than I can immensely write
You are one of a number of friends who do me the honour of challenging me
Please watch this space
I’ll write further
I wouldn’t normally respond to this post, because I find it so hard to be polite about doctors whose inaction denies relief to the suffering, but Susanne’s reply is based on a misconception about the proposed law.
There is no provision to protect us from becoming like Alice, demented people will still be resuscitated when their hearts fail, and they’ll still be given antibiotics to cure the infections that would otherwise give them a peaceful route to death, and no matter how much they fear the indignities of the future (as my father did), they cannot access voluntary assisted dying under the proposed Victorian law.
The bill makes provision only for a person over 18 who must be of “sound decision-making capacity” and the condition they are suffering from must be expected to cause death within 12 months and be “causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that is tolerable to the person”.
If the bill passes, and I certainly hope it does, people with a terminal illness (like my mother) suffering terribly while under the care of the palliative care industry and begging to die, will have to go doctor shopping if they come up against doctors who still won’t help them. My advice would be to find a humane doctor well before that…
Thank you for writing
Your heartfelt sentiments seem To me to be unanswerable
I cannot defend myself from them, partly because I agree with them to a great extent
I hope I’ll remain humane
I hope I’ll relieve, support, advise, accept, respect and honour my patient
I know I won’t violate the wishes or the dignity of a person by delaying death and release
I hate that
I ensured my own parents were not subjected to those indignities
I wanted my parents to exit peacefully and was happy morphine allowed that
I want that for myself as for all
Now there’s nothing unusual about my feelings or methods or wishes
It will be unusual when someone approaches me with the expectation I will end the person’s life
My life in medicine, my drive into medicine and my continuing instinct is to cure where I can, to relieve always, to support always
Has anyone asked you to end their life?
It is a hard and painful dilemma
I cannot know today how I will help that person
I will try
I will, I suppose, often fail
I do not demand sympathy for the doctor
I hope for latitude
It is the sufferer not the doctor whose situation is desperate and who sees and seeks a simple response
That simplicity will probably remain beyond me
Hi Howard, as always, very interesting to read your views, and on this topic in particular.
My understanding of what the public is asking regarding the euthanasia law is not that it is the doctor’s decision, but the patient’s, that the person helping to carry out the patient’s wish will not be prosecuted.
I very much hope we will have a law of that type when I need it, when I need help because I am no longer able to end my life myself, so I can continue enjoying it until it is intolerable, that I will not end up like Alice in “Still Alice”. Did you see that movie?
With my very best wishes for your health and happiness,
______________________________________ Dr Susanne Dopke Consultant in Bilingualism Speech Pathologist
Australian Newsletter for Bilingual Families:
ph: (+61-3) 9439 4148 mobile: 0409 977 037
I didn’t see the movie, Susannah
I find these situations painful
I feel least pain when I can give relief
Once a patient comes to me with the specific and sole request for death at my hand I expect to feel the most intense discomfort
And of course my problem is so little in comparison with my patient’s problem
The immensity and the intensity of my patient’s distress magnified mine
As I wrote, I cannot see a solution
Changing a law does not change reality for everyone
Of course what I have written is provisional
I have only once been tested. And that happened when my mother asked me to knock her off
And I failed that test
Thank you for writing susannah
I am sorry it took me so long to reply
Your comments always give me a lift
The bilingual twins whom you helped so much are now a pair of articulate and eloquent orators, advocates, disputants
Their elders run for cover
A great triumph on the part of their wise speech therapist
By the way are you aware that a warning you once made led to my bad dreams that I purged by writing carrots snd Jaffas?
And are you still abroad?