Noel Pearson warns that sanctioning death as an individual choice is an unprecedented shift in the nature of human society
Indigenous leader, Noel Pearson, has slammed Australian parliaments - beginning with the Northern Territory in 1995 - for leading "the world down a new path for humankind, something unprecedented in all of human prehistory and history: that suicide is now a choice of the individual sanctioned by society."
One of the oldest and most fundamental questions humans have ever answered in the negative is: does your individual freedom include the freedom to choose death? Before these new laws societies across the globe, through history, regardless of religion and culture, said no.
He criticised the irresponsibility of MPs who relied on emotional stories to justify their vote rather than considering the deeper issues involved in such a profound change:
The advocates for assisted dying and MPs engaged in this orgiastic emotion seem to think they are the sole witnesses to, and vicarious victims of, the suffering of loved ones.
But there is hardly a family unaffected by such suffering. Not in Queensland and not in all Australia. Who gave these people the emotional monopoly on the subject of suffering facing death?
Opponents of assisted dying and the many who have misgivings about laws such as this are not unaffected by pain and suffering themselves and on the part of their loved ones.
Every family has parents and family members who die suddenly in brief episodes of pain, who die peacefully, and others for whom death comes only after long illness and suffering. None of us is immune from this and it has always been like this.
Then there are those who die in great trauma as a result of accident, murder or war, and none of these deaths are dignified. Lack of suffering and dignity in dying is never guaranteed for anyone.
My point is simply that as a public policy matter assisted dying is not a question of emotion. There is something deeper involved than the kind of performative compassion and progressivism we saw in the parliament this week.
Pearson incisively pointed to the nub of the question: the enormity of the shift in human society of sanctioning the choice of death as a so-called individual "freedom":
My second point is that neither is assisted dying a matter of personal choice. Not for the individuals who hope to avail themselves of this law and not for the politicians who vote for it.
No politician with any sense of their democratic responsibility should ever have considered their stance on assisted dying as a matter of personal choice.
I would go so far as to say it is not even a matter of conscience. Or religion. It is a matter of fundamental philosophy. About the history and nature of human society and the meaning of human life and death. And the question facing the parliament was whether it was now time to abandon a principle that was more ancient and more common than perhaps any other: that the choice to die was not one that society ever sanctioned.
The opponents of assisted dying focused their campaign on palliative care and its inadequate funding. I understand this argument and why these advocates focused on it – but, even though there is truth in this, it isn’t the core.
The core is the enormity of the shift our society is making with sanctioning the choice of death as yet another freedom of the individual, whereas in the past this was always a question for society.
A full copy of the his comments can be read here.
For other views on why euthanasia and assistance to suicide should be opposed see here.