Disabled journalist: euthanasia is 'incompatible with human dignity'

Disabled journalist: euthanasia is 'incompatible with human dignity'

Peter Dwan

Much has been written about euthanasia of late. I shall offer some thoughts on the subject from the point of view of a handicapped person.

Let me firstly briefly tell you about myself. I am 50 years old and was born a cerebral palsied - athetoid with tension. I also have RSI in my left hand, which means that I am never out of pain. But I am not looking for sympathy, and count my blessings every day having overcome my handicaps to a great extent. I can walk without a walking stick, speak, (with an impediment,) write, type, use a computer, and care for myself to a great extent.

My late mother educated me by correspondence until I was in grade four, after which I completed grades four, five and six at Musk Vale State School, a small primary school near Daylesford, Victoria. I next attended Daylesford High School, where I matriculated with honours, and then attended Melbourne University where I completed my BA, passing ten subjects, including five with honours.


As I was unable to find suitable work after graduating, I decided to devote my time to writing for the Catholic press. When my Mother was no longer able to care for me, we were both admitted to Nazareth House, Ballarat. Such a background naturally colours my attitude to the euthanasia debate.

Of course, I am opposed to euthanasia. There have been some ideas expressed which I would want to challenge. Euthanasia is firstly an attack on the sanctity of human life, and breaks the fifth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." The Australian Constitution opens with the noble words: "Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God." It is bad enough that there are 80,000 abortions annually in Australia; the introduction of legalised euthanasia would simply add to the hypocrisy.

Supporters of euthanasia speak about the pain people suffer, but fail to acknowledge the extent to which modern medicine and its drugs can relieve pain. They also possess a humanist view which fails to recognise the redemptive value of suffering.

A point which opponents of euthanasia often make, and which I would wish to stress, is that what we are witnessing in Darwin today is only the thin end of the wedge. A demand for euthanasia which purports to be based on a concern about pain is merely paving the way for euthanasia on other more flimsy grounds. The experience in Holland has shown that voluntary euthanasia will inevitably pave the way for involuntary euthanasia.

As a handicapped person, I am concerned about what could easily happen when expediency replaces principle. Viewed in purely economic terms, expediency would dictate that it is far cheaper to finance a lethal injection than to underwrite a disability pension for fifty years.

Already in Darwin we have seen the way the wind is blowing. From the demand for euthanasia to relieve pain, we have seen its advocates claim that depression should also be a basis for euthanasia. Of course, depression can be a real problem. But it is matter which needs to be carefully looked at, since people in constant pain can become depressed. It should be clearly recognised that it is never pain per se which leads to depression, but rather people's attitude to their pain, which is a totally different matter. The Redemptorist, the late Fr William H. Stinson, maintained that depression is often merely a smokescreen for anger. It is only natural that people are tempted to become angry when unexpected pain puts paid to their best laid plans.

We are meant to operate on a supernatural rather than a merely natural level. A friend at high school once said to me: "You must often get depressed." I was able to tell him that I seldom became depressed, and that when I did, I just said a few prayers and was soon my cheery old self again. It is important when one is in pain to maintain a healthy sense of humour, especially when others are glum. Once when my hand was particularly painful, someone said to me, "It must be terrible to have a nagging hand." I replied: "I'd rather have a nagging hand than a nagging wife!"

Time of trial

I pity those without faith for they are forced to rely on their own resources in time of trial, since they lack the marvellous philosophy which faith provides, especially the light which it sheds on the mystery of suffering, and the tremendous help which comes through prayer. It is not surprising that such people advocate euthanasia. Were it not for my faith and sense of humour, I would not be able to cope; with them, I would not change places with anyone.

Advocates of euthanasia speak about "death with dignity" as if to suggest that death with suffering is a death without dignity. They fail to realise that Our Lord's death on the cross was one of great suffering, but also one of great dignity. And they fail to acknowledge that any euthanasia death is either murder or suicide, or a combination of both, and that neither of them is dignified. It is up to us to convince our fellow Australians that euthanasia is in truth incompatible with human dignity.

Let us show that we are genuinely concerned about human dignity by praying for the success of the Bill introduced into the Federal Parliament by Mr Kevin Andrews to outlaw euthanasia, and by writing to our Senators, asking them to vote for the Andrews legislation. To fail to act along these lines is to imply by our inaction that our concern about human dignity is no greater than those who advocate euthanasia.

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