by MARIA KENNEDY
Covid-19 is teaching us that you can’t always do what you want in our wonderful yet dangerous world. The right of the individual to go about their daily business has been curtailed. This is caused, not just by a deadly virus, but also by a society that says, for the sake of the greater good, the individual has to do things they’d rather not do – such as wear a mask, stay home, not travel overseas, get tested and not buy up all the toilet rolls in the supermarket. The consequence of doing what you want may be the spread of a virus, causing someone else to become sick, or even die. With Covid-19, we see that individual behaviour does affect others. It only takes one infected person to cause a pandemic.
With Covid-19, we see that the actions of the individual and the choices of the individual become curtailed for the greater good. It means the individual has to suffer a little, while at the same time being patient, kind and trying to hang in there until the virus is beaten. Efforts are made to minimise the suffering. ‘Go early and go hard’ is the catch phrase of the Government. With this pandemic, we have to think of somebody else out there in society, perhaps an elderly, vulnerable person, who is very susceptible to Covid-19. We feel the responsibility on ourselves to socially–distance, because we don’t want the responsibility of inadvertently causing the death of someone else.
When it comes to legalising euthanasia, we need to keep in mind our Covid-19 behaviour – individual behaviour is modified to benefit the greater good of all. This behaviour makes clear that the following statement is false – “what I do doesn’t affect anybody else”. The individual is not an island, and we do not act independently of everyone else. Rather, we are part of a society, and we are linked by all the relationships we have with one another. As they say, we are a two–degree society – we need only two other people to make links to everyone else in the country.
If the individual is not an island, then the decisions of the individual are not made in a vacuum. We are sensitive to the underlying currents of what society expects of us, because we want to belong and feel included. A further part of that belonging includes copying others. Something that is viewed as trendy becomes more popular. One of these popular activities is sharing stories on public media about how people’s loved ones’ final days could have been relieved by euthanasia. One story sparks another and everyone is nodding their heads in sympathy. Yet, when I hear these stories, and I sympathise with these people, I also get a tightening feeling in my stomach, like a warning to take care.
Euthanasia is scary because you are actually giving someone else the right to end your life. Among other things, I am concerned for the vulnerable ones. The person who is terminally ill and depressed, that seeks euthanasia because they are depressed, is a vulnerable person. Overseas statistics show a large number of people choose euthanasia because they don’t want to be a burden on others. If they feel a burden by subtle suggestion, an expectation placed on them, or a feeling of impatience that they are taking too long to die, then they are vulnerable. There are people with chronic and treatable conditions, who go through periods when it feels too much, and they seek release when they are in a state of depression. In Canada, since physician–assisted dying became law in 2016, fewer doctors are choosing to specialise in palliative care. The worry is that a shortage of palliative care physicians will lead people to choose euthanasia. In the Netherlands next year, their parliament votes on whether or not to allow healthy people over the age of 75 to be able to seek euthanasia if they are tired of life.
The rationale to protect the elderly vulnerable person from Covid-19 also applies to whether or not we want to protect the vulnerable from euthanasia. Sometimes, when facing death, we need to suffer a little, in the sense that maybe we should give up having euthanasia as a back-stop insurance policy and confront our fear of death in other ways. Always, we should be trying to minimise the suffering of the dying. However, the option of using euthanasia makes a deep societal change. In true compassion we need to care for the vulnerable before ourselves. Legalising euthanasia is caring for the self before the vulnerable. It is like putting a virus in our community. It will affect everyone in it and make us a less caring society.
- Maria Kennedy is a writer from Wellington and is a parishioner at St Francis of Assisi, Ohariu parish.