This opinion piece was first published by the Daily Telegraph.
“DYING with dignity” is a euphemism. It purports to say something ennobling; it means something entirely menacing. ‘‘Dying with dignity’’ is dishonest. It claims to be telling a truth, but it is instead spreading a falsehood.
It reduces people who are dying to nothing more than the pain and suffering associated with their dying.
Language matters in the question of whether or not to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in Australia.
Adopting emotive slogans to bolster one’s own position, while belittling the reasoning of your opponent, might pass as acceptable in political electioneering but it is not a ploy that should determine debate over the life and death of fellow human beings, our neighbours.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has always claimed that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. This is, of course, a declaration of belief but it is equally a statement of reasoned argument.
We cannot proclaim a common humanity unless that humanity has been invested with a purpose and worth not of our own making.
This is precisely what euthanasia advocates deny. Consequently, the life of a healthy person is valued differently from that of a dying person.
Some might assert that euthanasia is a private matter between a patient and a willing assistant, and that it will have no impact on others in the wider community.
Tell that to the disabled people who feel pressured to think of themselves as a social burden, or the elderly person whose life is now subject to whispered cost-benefit analysis.
These are some of the less savoury — and usually unmentionable — implications of a euthanasia-friendly society.
No matter how many safeguards are put in place, legalising euthanasia will always result in a denial of the broader and deeper horizons of our humanity. Do we really want to become a society with a law that ends up creating its own demand?
Do we really want to become a nation that legalises the assisted killing of its citizens? Do we want to become a people known for our lack of love, compassion and care towards our neighbours precisely at the point when they are suffering most as they die?
Our lives are a gift endowed with a meaning beyond anything science can explain. This is why the pain and suffering of someone who is dying cannot be ignored or dismissed or explained away. The suffering is real; the pain is felt. These are profound human mysteries touching the core of our being.
Yet, euthanasia does not seek to confront the suffering and pain of a person but to offer ‘‘treatment options’’ (another euphemism) that eliminate the person. It reduces a person to his or her condition, and then deals with the problem.
Our dying, in all its mysterious and puzzling dimensions, is a unique measure of our lives; it is part of what defines us as human beings.
Rather than eliminating the lives of suffering persons, how about acknowledging and respecting their lives with good palliative care and personal accompaniment?
Confronting the pain and suffering of a dying person calls for a human solution, not a medical fix.
Rather than buying into the dishonest euphemism of ‘‘dying with dignity’’, we would do better — and be more human — by dignifying the lives of the dying.
Bishop Peter Comensoli is the Australian Catholic Bishops’ spokesman on euthanasia