Euthanasia: a Trinity Sunday reflection
Choral Evensong is an occasion for a very brief reflection and probably impossible to do justice to so vast a subject as Euthanasia - yet I hope it is an opportunity to attempt some respectful reflection, however brief; and also a time when all who face difficult and terminal issues may be held in prayer.
If the Trinity is an imponderable doctrine that resists our understanding, for me euthanasia is an ethical issue that resists any easy resolution. To be human is surely to face ethical issues and the measure of who we are may not be that we resolve them like some problematic mathematical equation but that we engage them with all our humanity – and obviously with respect, compassion and imagination.
This week in the High Court in Wellington Lecretia Seales, suffering from a terminal brain tumour, has asked the Court that her doctor be allowed to help her die. I am really not sure that this is a case that the Courts can or should make a decision on. I would have no trouble with medication that was given to ease pain but that also shortened life: the intention to ease the pain being the primary aim. If that was understood and accepted I hope that no one would then accuse the attendant physician of any wrong doing. However I realise that such matters have a way of seldom being so straight forward.
However the Wellington case has been brought forward on the grounds of human rights and if it is allowed on those grounds I (with many in New Zealand) will wonder at the implication it will have on the human rights of many vulnerable people in New Zealand. A shift in the way the law treats the sanctity of life for one will almost certainly cause a shift in the way the sanctity of life for others may come to be regarded. We always talk about the ‘slippery slope’ in such ethical debates: one concession in case (a) may create precedents in cases (b) and (z) and so on.
I suppose one particular case such as Lecretia Seales presents is a bad way to make law that has to be applicable to everyone else. I suggest that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members: the aged, the poor, the sick, the handicapped, those who have no one to defend them, care for them or be an advocate for them.
I don’t know what is right for Lecretia Seales yet I hope that the law is not changed. There are many things I (and I am sure many others) believe ought to happen rather than change the law, such as: have hospices better funded; have more palliative care consultants to be trained; have money invested into pain clinics; have more research funded for pain relief.
It’s an old film now, but I still vividly remember sometime in the 1980s when I first watched Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in Sophie’s Choice and was appalled at the dilemma Sophie faced when she had to choose in Auschwitz which of her children would be gassed and which would be sent to the Labour camp.