OPINION: Dying with dignity 

EUTHANASIA is not a black and white subject.

The question ‘‘do you support euthanasia?’’ cannot be answered by a simple ‘‘yes’’ or ‘‘no’’.

There are huge grey areas regarding the subject and, in order to provide this country with an appropriate system to stop unnecessary suffering, there has to be more discussion.

I have had two close experiences of how current laws can affect individuals and, of course, family and friends.

The first was a relative I was very close to – a best friend, even – who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was eight years old.

MS is not a terminal illness, but it is a debilitating illness that can leave one from simply requiring a walking stick, to moving into a wheelchair, to being unable to control movements and losing the ability to communicate and take nourishment naturally.

No one can fully comprehend how it feels to see a loved one’s health slowly disintegrate to a point where they are no longer enjoying life.

It is even harder to accept when that person decides enough is enough, and they want to leave you.

Yet what is almost unbearable to witness is a loved one unable to legally choose to die with dignity and being forced into an almost inhumane path to relief.

This relative, and another in England who had cancer, was forced to reject medication after contracting an infection, so they could die slowly in hospital care.

The infection would have left both considerably weaker and further decreased their quality of life.

While morphine no doubt aided in reducing the pain, it was nevertheless an unnecessarily drawn out, and undignified, end to life.

Suicide wasn’t an option because it would have affected life insurance claims and disadvantaged family members left behind.

Rejecting medication should not be the only option people with terminal or debilitating illnesses have in their decision to die.

Yet there are, of course, valid objections to euthanasia.

There has to be a line drawn somewhere.

But the question of where it should be drawn remains shockingly out of public, media and political discussion.

An Australian Institute online survey revealed in November last year that more than 70per cent of 1400 respondents supported the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.

About 17per cent said they didn’t know and 12per cent said they opposed it.

An increase in the ‘‘don’t knows’’ from the previous year highlights the lack of debate on the topic in both the media and Australian politics.

While media outlets comment on Beyonce lip-syncing and politicians squabble over name-calling, it defies belief that euthanasia is not more openly talked about.

Death is an uncomfortable subject for most people and can be very confronting.

But it is important to bring issues that truly matter into the public domain – issues that affect human emotion, interaction and quality of living.

A double euthanasia in Belgium, where the act was legalised in 2002, saw two deaf brothers decide to take lethal injection after discovering they would both turn blind due to a genetic form of glaucoma.

The pair argued that they couldn’t bear the thought of being unable to see each other again as sign language was their only way of communicating.

Whether that fits in with the country’s requirement of patients needing to be ‘‘suffering unbearable pain’’ is debatable.

But what it highlights is the need for discussion, especially in Australia, where euthanasia is not legal in any current form.

People need to talk about what they would want if a loved one was diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating illness.

‘‘Do you support euthanasia?’’ is not a yes or no question. 

But it is a question that needs to be more widely acknowledged, so solutions can be found for those suffering poor quality of life.

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