18 August 2015
Dr Peter Saunders, a Kiwi and former general surgeon, is currently visiting New Zealand and is available for comment between engagements.
Euthanasia-Free NZ invited him to give three lectures in his capacity as Campaign Director of Care Not Killing, an alliance of over 40 UK-based organisations that promote palliative care and oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide. He is also Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe.
Care Not Killing has been involved in two recent debates: In May the Scottish Parliament voted down the Harvie Assisted Suicide Bill. The UK is currently considering the Marris Assisted Dying Bill which proposes legal assisted suicide for terminally ill people who are expected to live for six months or less.
“It is a widely held misconception that people with terminal illnesses or disabilities are more likely than those in the general population to want to end their lives,” says Dr Saunders.
“In fact, suicidal thinking is far more likely related to feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness – existential or spiritual factors that may accompany illness – rather than physical symptoms which can in the main be effectively controlled.
“There is the myth that suicidal thoughts in sick and disabled people should be managed differently from similar thoughts in people who are not sick and disabled. People who choose to end their lives usually do so because of a perception that they are alone and that no one cares about them, because of a loss of meaning and purpose or because they perceive their lives to be a burden on others. It is much more about the person than the disease. People who are suicidal need love, support, care and professional help, not for us to accede to their requests.
“It is utterly illogical to offer a glass of barbiturate to someone who is terminally ill whilst offering protection and care to a person equally suicidal with a mental illness.”
He argues that:
1. By legalising assisted suicide we would be sending mixed messages that suicide is acceptable for some groups of people and unacceptable for others.
2. Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.
3. It is impossible to adequately safeguard against exploitation and abuse.
4. Persistent requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide are extremely rare if people are properly cared for. Our priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.
On Wednesday the 19th of August Dr Saunders will be in Wellington and address medical professionals at lunchtime and the general public at 5.30 pm.
On Saturday the 22nd he is scheduled to give a public talk in Mt Albert, Auckland, at 1.30 pm.