Friday, November 5, 2010

The right to choose but at what cost?

I've had an issue floating around in my head for a few weeks now. It's a current issue but one that has become more personal in recent weeks. It's a topic most of us would have an opinion on and one that stirs up fierce debate - the highly emotional issue of euthanasia.

I lost my two beautiful grandmothers to the insidious disease that is cancer - that awful c word. I don't for a moment think I'm the only one to have lost a loved one to cancer and sadly I know I won't be the last. My grandmothers faced cancer for many years and both lost the fight aged in their 40s, far too young. They left behind children, husbands, siblings and changed the course of their family's lives forever. I have always felt a void or actually two voids in my life because I've never had the privilege of knowing my grandmothers.

A close family friend is currently in the final stages of cancer. He has resisted it for as long as possible but is now in hospital as the end nears. For my parents and my father especially, these last moments of life and hours and days spent in hospital rooms bring back many memories. Of watching loved ones battle this same insidious disease. There is no cure, no hope for a better future. The person you love is dying and you are forced to stand by and watch helplessly.

I visited and said my goodbyes a few months ago. We all knew it was a final goodbye. I dreaded the visit because I was frightened I would be overcome by the enormity and finality of it all and end up a tearful mess. To visit each and every day as my dad has been doing takes a lot of courage. I know my dad doesn't want to say goodbye but wants the pain and indignity of it all to end. In his view his mate deserves more than a hospital bed and endless pain killers.

I believe in a person’s right to dignity. I was brought up to treat people with respect and I would hopefully be treated with respect in return. Unfortunately many terminal diseases including cancer wear their sufferers down and leave them with little dignity and a fraction of the quality of life they once enjoyed. I also strongly believe in a person’s right to choose.

So what is the place of euthanasia in our society? I support euthanasia in principle and the right to dignity in your final moments. The right to choose you don't want to exist in this way and ultimately to choose your own ending. However I'm not sure how as a society we can make euthanasia a realistic option.

What about those with a terminal illness who are worth more to their family dead than alive? As much as we don’t want to think about it, those situations do exist. Or the medical system crying out for much needed beds? Euthanasia has to be about what the individual wants and requests, with no pressure or influence from family or medical staff. But how can we as a society know that every person who wants to take the euthanasia path is doing so completely for their own reasons. This is my stumbling block and the reason I'm not totally convinced euthanasia can realistically work in our society.

It may seem like I'm sitting on the fence on this issue. But I do believe in the right to choose euthanasia. I just need to satisfy both my head and my heart that it will always be about protecting the individual and respecting their dignity and their right to choose. Not for any other reason.

If you have a view I would love to hear it.

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