As if the euthanasia and/or capital punishment debate weren't complex enough; pro-death advocate Philip Nitschke this week suggested that Tasmanian mass murderer Martin Bryant who is in jail "never to be released" is a prime candidate for some form of euthanasia. (see here).
I am not one who thinks that Nitschke should be dismissed out of hand because his views are outspoken or extreme (or more accurately because I largely disagree with them!) but I think he has done nothing to advance his cause by making this sort of comment.
It will actually expose for a lot more people just how defective and slippery his arguments are.
For me the issue about euthanasia is more about the downward slide.
That is, once you admit it, no matter how strong the safeguards are that you put in place, how then do you actually stop these safeguards being weakened as time goes on.
History would show that humankind, being what it is, we tend to slide downhill and strict safeguards get weaker. Some would think this is a good thing, I don't.
Nitschke's argument in the case of Bryant, is that Bryant has tried to kill himself unsuccessfully on several occasions, to continue to allow him to languish in the penal system is akin to torture and is therefore cruel punishment. Because Bryant is 'never to be released', the possibility of his rehabilitation whilst in jail is obviously being denied. What then is the purpose of his incarceration?
This raises the question about what we are doing when we send people to jail any way.
Are we trying to punish them, make them suffer or rehabilitate them. Or some combination of all three?
This is where I think Nitschke has exposed himself.
His unremitting advocacy for euthanasia has essentially been about relieving the suffering of those who are going to die. It is about a dying person making a choice, not about having the choice made for them. Nor is it that a person who is depressed about, or fed up with, or just plain bored with life being allowed to top themselves!
While Nitschke and others may feel that it is OK that euthanasia is purely a personal or individual decision, most people in our society don't. Euthanasia is for the dying, not the bored.
The particular case of Bryant, who committed one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, only further confuses the issue.
What do you do with a man who mows down tourists, adults and children unremittingly?
Most people are happy to let him languish in jail. As a country we believe that the death sentence is not appropriate. Not all of us by any means accept this view.
But that is where we stand today.
We will not for example extradite people to countries where it is likely that they will be subject to the death penalty.
While we may be drawn to the idea that Bryant should be executed. And I am not! We actually say, we do not believe that taking people's lives is a value that we want to incorporate into our nation's world view.
Martin Bryant, however deservedly, should not be allowed to be executed even if he wants to be.
We do not want to be the sort of society that has capital punishment. Why should a mass murderer be allowed to flout that? Why should Nitschke's euthanasia agenda be allowed to flow into this complex area too?
This is my point. The slippery slope.
While some may have sympathy with a view of euthanasia that hastens the end of a life of pain which is headed irrevocably towards an immediate death, most of us are scandalised by the idea that euthanasia might be used as a tool of social control.
Misfits like Bryant might want to die, as a society we do not believe that it is appropriate that suicide of those who are not terminally ill should be sanctioned, and certainly it should not be assisted.
The question is not whether it "could" be done, of course it could, but whether it "should" be.