By Reverend Chris Brennan
The question of "assisted dying" is again on the agenda, and our state member has asked our opinion before a Bill goes to Parliament.
As a person considered by many as personifying the religious, some will have decided my opinion is unworthy, perhaps assuming I have not thought about the issue from other perspectives, or not experienced it first hand, or that I can contribute nothing unbiased to the discussion. I would challenge all three assumptions.
Most reasonable people would acknowledge my day-to-day experience gives me more exposure to this issue, but on a more personal level, I have observed the impact of ongoing chronic pain on a loved one. Over the last few years I watched my Dad decline due to prostate and skin cancer before he died in March last year.
My lack up to this point is that I have thankfully not been the one considering assisted dying as an option.
Have we missed one crucial aspect - what drives the perception of assisted dying as a positive option? In my experience, the most common reasons people give for wanting to end their own lives are: pain, a loss of dignity, being a burden to others and of having no value.
We know that medically, at least in the majority of palliative cases, we can manage pain so long as medications are carefully administered and adequately monitored. If the experience of pain is the principle driving factor in the positive case for assisted dying, then it must be rejected in most situations.
The final three reasons are much more difficult to confront because they entail a different kind of suffering. Would a person seek to end their life if they had dignity? If they had value? And if they felt no guilt about the impact their palliative situation had on others? I would be bold enough as to suggest very few indeed would consider it.
All of those feelings come from the outside. We convey feelings of dignity (or not) to those we interact with. We convey feelings of value, and it can be us who allow someone to feel that we are burdened, inconvenienced, and discomforted by their situation.
What if we showed people our love by how we spent our time and money? What if we changed the narrative so caring for others became more important than our convenience? What if we became comfortable even in the midst of a suffering person's discomfort?
Could it be that in the vast majority of cases assisted dying could be seen as a vastly inferior alternative to an outworking of self-giving, value-building, care?•