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Russell Crowe’s 2014 film, The water diviner, tells the true story of an Australian farmer who traveled to Gallipoli after World War I to search for his three sons, all soldiers of the Australian forces and all missing in action.
Spoiler alert: Towards the end, the father reunites with his eldest son, Arthur, still alive. Art tells his father that after being injured by the Turks, his younger brother Henry lost his blood for hours, until Art shot him down at his request. The anguish of art is evident and its action is portrayed with sympathy.
From the Next World War comes the true story of two other Australian brothers, who enlisted together and fought side by side on the Kokoda Trail in 1942. After Butch Bisset was seriously injured by Japanese gunfire, the medic of the platoon could do nothing more than give him morphine. So Stan held him in his arms for six hours until he died.
They sat down, “laughing, crying and remembering the good times of their childhood, the problems they encountered as children and the times they played rugby together.” Butch passed out and the two shared one last song as Butch breathed his last.
Two different “brotherly” responses to human suffering, both motivated by mercy, both attracting our sympathy. The first says that in the end it is better to kill someone than to let them suffer, especially if he asks to do so. The second resists killing the suffering person but gives him love and care until the end.
The “VAD” debate highlights these two approaches.
Suffering cannot diminish the value of a life
Advocates of euthanasia are telling heartbreaking stories to point in a clear direction. Opponents of euthanasia tend to argue about moral principles and social consequences. The two parties end up talking to each other.
But these two stories, placed side by side, recognize that these are truly complex issues that leave us in conflict.
The story of the Bisset brothers does not deny the realities of physical, psychological and “existential” suffering: but it reveals that such suffering cannot diminish the intrinsic value of life.
Not all choices can be equal
He does not deny the importance of personal freedom: but not all choices are equally responsible or worthy.
There’s no shortage of compassion: it’s just that the answer to suffering is non-lethal. It is a position that seems to demand many people, those who suffer, those who care for them and the surrounding community.
New South Wales stands on the edge of a precipice. How to decide?
Not just a religious question
One answer is that we should never play god or break the commandment not to kill. Some say I don’t believe in your god or his rules. Some say that believers and religious beliefs should stay out of this.
But the idea that human beings are special and that their lives are inviolable is not the monopoly of believers. This is common to international human rights instruments and most legal systems, the pre-Christian Hippocratic Oath and post-modern codes of medical associations. You don’t have to be religious to insist on the dignity of every human being and the clear line against intentional murder.
But the idea that human beings are special and that their lives are inviolable is not the monopoly of believers. This is common to international human rights instruments and most legal systems, the pre-Christian Hippocratic Oath and post-modern codes of medical associations.
Many MPs agree, saying that euthanasia is against their principles or beliefs, but they are unwilling to impose them on others (despite the fact that those who agree are willing to impose their points of view on others!). They therefore substitute their own judgment by the number of emails they have received.
Emotions and polls shouldn’t rule the laws
While their primary duty is to protect vulnerable people and preserve the common good, they accompany the emotional flow generated by stories of bad deaths without palliative care. But as the old saying goes, “tough cases make the law”.
In the name of God and mankind: step back from this NSW precipice!
This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on November 25, 2021