In blog, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

Cross-posted from the Leading Edge blog on October 15 2013.

Earlier today the NZ media reported about a very sad case of suicide involving elderly Wellington woman Edna Gluyas, who took her own life by suffocating herself with a plastic bag.

Now for some reason, Wellington Regional Coroner Ian Smith seems to have decided to politicize this truly tragic case.

His first highly questionable action was his decision to label what is clearly an act of suicide as an act of euthanasia.

Euthanasia may take many different forms (voluntary, in-voluntary, non-voluntary, passive, active), however it is universally known that it involves at least one other party who assists directly in the act of euthanasia.

When a person, acting alone, takes their own life, even if they are a “firm believer in euthanasia”, this is clearly an act of suicide, NOT euthanasia.

Anyone who calls an act of suicide ‘euthanasia’ is either doing so because they are ignorant of terminology and facts, or because they have an ideological agenda that they are trying to further.

Even a cursory examination of the facts in this case, as reported by the NZ media today, should clearly give cause for concern here about the mental well being of Edna Gluyas, who:

-Was living alone

-Was struggling with arthritis and back pain

-Rarely visited her GP

-Had had her confidence “shaken” by a car accident in 2011

-Was dealing with the recent death of her pet golden retriever dog

The second highly questionable action of Wellington Regional Coroner Ian Smith was his decision to make the following statement:

“Once again this death raises the vexed issue of euthanasia and, as I have recorded in past cases, this process simply will not go away, and it will be necessary for Parliament to address this matter yet again.”

This statement is extremely problematic, as it indicates that a NZ Coroner is using his office as a ideological/political lobbying mechanism.

As Ian Smith’s statement indicates, he knows full well that the NZ Parliament has already ruled on the issue of euthanasia TWICE in the past 18 years, by voting down two different bills that were introduced to try and legalize euthanasia in this country.

So why would he recommend that it is necessary for Parliament to “address this matter yet again”, unless what he actually means by “address this matter yet again” is: ‘legalize euthanasia’?

Also, how does raising euthanasia legislation yet again in the NZ Parliament have any real or meaningful impact on this particular case?

It’s pretty hard to read this statement as anything other than an expression of a personal ideological position, and a statement of advocacy for a particular legislative outcome (it’s either that, or a massive blunder was made when phrasing this statement).

Surely the findings in this tragic death should have focused on the actual issues of this case, such as elderly care, loneliness of the vulnerable in our community, proper pain management, patient care, etc?

Instead Ian Smith has politicized this suicide and made it about euthanasia legislation.

I think some serious questions now need to be asked about how a coroner can get away with incorrectly labeling a suicide an act of ‘euthanasia’.

Ian Smith has effectively, and without proper justification redefined euthanasia here. This now raises the obvious issue: can any suicide now be deemed an act of euthanasia if a coroner feels like ignoring correct terminology and simply calling it one?

Questions also need to be asked about whether a coroner should be using the office he holds as a pulpit to advance personal ideological agendas.

Remember, if Ian Smith had correctly labeled this case as a ‘suicide’, then he wouldn’t have then been able to go on and propose that euthanasia legislation needs to be raised yet again in NZ Parliament.

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