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www.mnnews.today/aurora-magazine Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
“Euthanasia is not just an incremental
expansion of current ethically and legally
accepted end-of-life decisions , such as
refusals of life-suppor t treatment, as pro-
euthanasia advocates argue,” she said.
“ It seems that most politicians and
many Canadians do not recognise the
momentousness of a decision to legalise
euthanasia. It’s not incremental change,
but rather a radical and massive shift
in our society’s and civilisation’s
Dr Somerville said another pro-euthanasia
strategy to be resisted is the euphemising
of euthanasia by calling it “medical
treatment” a nd “medically-assisted death”.
“Euthanasia is not medical treatment.
Defining it as such presents serious dangers
to patients, the trust-based physician-
patient relationship, and medicine ,” she said.
The medicalisation of assisted suicide
es tablishes suicide as a legitimate response
to suffering, thus endorsing suicide, Dr
Somer ville said. Studies have shown that
more honest language such as “state-
sanctioned suicide” or “p hysicians killing
their patients” reduces public suppor t for
deliberately inflicted death.
“ Words matter,” she said. “ Language affects
emotions and intuitions, including moral
intuitions, which are important to ethical
Drawing on the Canadian experience, Dr
Somer ville said the appeal to individual
autonomy, to empathy and compassion ,
and the promotion of the idea that death is
actually a benefit to someone whose life is
affected by illness, were all pro-euthanasia
arguments to be vigorously resisted.
She said the dangers of legalised killing
to society as a whole must outweigh
“ Euthanasia is special (among ethical
debates) because there’s nothing new
about it. We’ve always gotten old, suffered,
become terminally ill, been dying and
somebody could have killed us, and we said
‘No, that is wrong. We don’t do that.’
“So that’s why euthanasia is so impor tant.
Because if we change that, we’re changing
the very roots of our society. I think we’re
changing the essence of what it means to
be human if we star t killing each other.”
Dr Somerville’s presentation at The
University of Notre Dame was a joint
initiative of the Faculties of Medicine and
Law and the University’s Institute for
Ethics and Society.
SHIFT IN SOCIETY’S VALUES
Euthanasia is not an incremental change to
current end-of-life practices, but a radical
and massive shift in our society’s and
civilisation’s foundational values, says
internationally renowned Australian
ethicist, Margaret Somerville.
Dr Somerville, who is a Professor of Law,
Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, and
Founding Director of the Centre for
Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University
in Montreal, Canada, was speaking at the
University of Notre Dame (Sydney), as part
of a series of public lectures on ethical issues
surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide
during her recent visit to Australia.
Her presentation focused on lessons to be
learnt from the debate in Canada, where
the Supreme Court earlier this year struck
down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for
mentally competent Canadian patients with
She said one of the key arguments of pro-
euthanasia advocates was that euthanasia is
no different from medical treatments, such as
palliative sedation, that are already
“When used correctly as part of palliative
care, palliative sedation is not euthanasia,”
she said. “ In palliative sedation as par t of
standard palliative care , physicians of ten allow
the patient to become conscious from time
to time and use the lightest possible sedation
consistent with relieving suffering. As well, it’s
only used as a last resort, and not often.”
Dr Somerville said acting with an intention
to kill is “different-in-kind” from allowing a
natural death and that doctors are one of the
groups most opposed to euthanasia.
She said that in The Netherlands, where
euthanasia is legal, there is so much
resistance by physicians to carrying it out that
the government has had to set up “mobile
euthanasia units” to visit homes and attend
to euthanasia requests.
Prof Margaret Somerville. Photograph courtesy of Gerard Williams, University of Notre Dame.
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