Today features this site’s first guest author, Mishka Gora. Mishka offers an insightful piece about the importance of understanding suffering and autonomy in the context of the seemingly never-ending push by pro-euthanasia and pro-abortion advocates in our parliaments. Mishka has witnessed tremendous suffering while volunteering in war-torn former Yugoslavia.
I hope that interesting and articulate guest authors will become a regular feature on this site. The mainstream press does not have all the answers, nor a monopoly on thought-provoking opinion pieces.
Please make Mishka feel welcome and you can find her blog here.
The polarising debate on the sensitive topics of abortion and euthanasia is becoming an ever more public battle as bills on ‘social issues’ clog up our legislatures. On Thursday, the Tasmanian parliament voted down the latest ‘voluntary assisted dying’ bill (again), and it will soon vote on a controversial abortion bill that has been draining resources since March. On October the 12th in Melbourne, MP Bernie Finn led the March for the Babies in protest against the precedent-setting 2008 Victorian abortion legislation. Legislators such as Premier Lara Giddings and Greens Leader Nick McKim are adamant they will reintroduce bills until they are eventually passed. Public debate, however, has mostly echoed the propaganda of these proponents rather than making observations about specific provisions or discussing right versus wrong.
I am not going to go into the dangerous flaws (or lack of safeguards) of the proposed legislation. This has been done elsewhere – see links below. I want to ponder what this says about our attitude to life, because even among the initiators of legislative change I have observed more questions than answers, doubt rather than confidence, and a distinct lack of equanimity.
I think it is important to realise that both sides not only think they are right but seek what they perceive as good. Pro-lifers are not ‘bigots’ who are ‘anti-women’ and want to punish ‘sinners’. Pro-choicers likewise do not get a kick out of murdering babies and little old ladies. This sort of demonising of the ‘enemy’ is why public discussion of these issues tends to be more of a propaganda war than a debate. When we bypass the rants about women’s rights, dying with dignity, and how abortion hurts women, we see a core issue. That issue is whether life is optional, whether it is justifiable to avoid life by terminating it in certain circumstances.
It is, whether we like it or not, about choice. It’s about whether or not we choose life when the going gets tough. It’s about how we respond when our view of the world becomes so dark that we no longer want to live in it or bring life into it.
For the record, I don’t think exercising such a choice is legitimate. I believe life (not death) is the paramount human right. I believe life is something to be cherished and protected, not thrown away, rejected, or terminated. But this doesn’t mean I cannot recognise that there are some good motives behind abortion and euthanasia. Many advocate these two forms of ‘termination’ of life because they either do not want people to suffer or do not want to watch people suffer.
We need to ask ourselves why a couple would choose to end the life of their child in the womb rather than hold him in their arms and kiss him goodbye before he dies of some lamentable congenital disease. We need to ask ourselves why an old woman wants a doctor to help her commit suicide rather than savour the last moments of life. We even need to ask ourselves why a young woman at the March for the Babies hurled vicious abuse at men kneeling in prayer and brandished a sign that said “F*** LIFE”. We need to ask these things not because we are responsible for their choices, but because if we don’t consider these questions we will make enemies of our misguided friends and the truth will be lost in the mêlée. While there is merit in proclaiming the truth even when no one is listening, it is certainly preferable to have an audience.
I could get all philosophical about the meaning of life and the problem of suffering, but philosophy (in my humble opinion) only makes sense when life has meaning and you are not in the midst of suffering. So, instead, I will make some personal observations.
There are few places you will find more suffering than refugee camps in a war zone. I got to know many of them as a humanitarian aid worker in various parts of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s conflict. I worked with men who had survived months in concentration camps, women who had shepherded children and the elderly across minefields and snow-covered mountains for hundreds of miles, and children who had witnessed their fathers and brothers tortured and killed, their mothers and sisters raped and abused, their homes pillaged and torched.
I never came across anyone who wanted to end it all… and the women still wanted to have babies. In fact, many felt an urgency to have children, to bring life into the world to counter those who had taken life. These people who, it seemed, had nothing left and had lost everything, had not lost the love of life. Many outsiders could not comprehend this, and I saw many aid workers and journalists break down in despair at the suffering they witnessed, but those who actually had to endure the suffering remained grateful for life. Often the perception of suffering and our imagination make witnessing suffering or our prospect of suffering more unbearable than the real thing.
“I don’t understand how you can take all this,” the American journalist said in the end. Aida and I looked at each other sadly and with a strong feeling of guilt.
“You suffer, and you are completely innocent,” said the journalist again, after neither of us answered.
“They don’t understand anything,” said Aida, after a prolonged pause.
“It is because they don’t suffer,” said I. “Suffering is an important form of cognition: it provides a kind of knowledge that can be acquired only that way, but we love to leave such knowledge to others.”
“I would not cede mine to anybody,” said beautiful Aida. “Believe me I would not change places with any of them.”
(Dzevad Karahasan, Sarajevo, Exodus of a City)
There is, of course, another sort of suffering that advocates of abortion and euthanasia are trying to avoid, and that is the fate of being ‘unwanted’. They (unwittingly?) send a dreadful message that, if unwanted, suicide is a reasonable response. After all, if being unwanted is justification for abortion and euthanasia, then the case for suicide (which can be done autonomously) is even stronger.
If there’s one certainty in life other than death, it’s that things won’t always go the way we want them to. When we proclaim that autonomy is an absolute right, as Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne did last Wednesday, we create false expectations about life. In addition to making death an option when things go wrong, we create a climate of fear, fear that our autonomy may be restricted in some way. We create a world in which “death is preferable” to a loss of autonomy. But death is not an answer to life’s problems, especially if it’s someone else’s death or requires someone else to participate.
And it’s not as if there are hosts of people wanting to end their lives. Otherwise, they’d just commit suicide. If it were just about our own autonomy there wouldn’t be any need for legislation. Any one of us can commit suicide. Its legality is irrelevant – you can’t prosecute a dead person.
So what it boils down to is a fallacious my-body-my-choice mantra that, remarkably, is still used even by educated politicians in legislative debate about both abortion and euthanasia. Leaving aside that the dead body after an abortion isn’t your own, both abortion and euthanasia require the cooperation of others in order to be carried out. And this is where it gets interesting. Pro-choice advocates don’t stop at their own body. They insist that the autonomy of others be compromised in order to fulfil their supposed right of autonomy.
We’re not talking about minor inconveniences or direct necessity either. The Tasmanian abortion legislation would punish doctors, counsellors, and protesters for merely exercising their consciences and not wanting to have any complicity in abortion. The euthanasia legislation (which was defeated on Thursday) similarly threatened anyone who persuaded someone to not commit assisted suicide with up to five years in gaol. And in Melbourne last weekend we saw pro-choice activists sabotage an authorised parade, carry out criminal damage to property, and assault law-abiding citizens. Were they fighting for the right to choose? No, abortions are already legal to term in Victoria. All that the victims of this criminal behaviour had done was exercise their democratic right to engage in a lawful protest.
It is clear that these issues aren’t going to go away. Once considered private matters about which pesky Christians should mind their own business, they are now public matters that some politicians seem bent on inflicting upon others again and again until they get their way. This is not the time for complacency. We cannot afford to take it easy. As Hannah Arendt warned: “Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.”
- Read more about the March for the Babies at: LifeSiteNews and CultureWatch
- Read more about the Tasmanian Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill at: Family Voice and MercatorNet
- Read more about the Tasmanian Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill at: MercatorNet
Mishka Gora is a Tasmanian writer specialising in matters of conscience. You can read more of her commentary on public and international affairs at Eyes of the Mind. She is also the Historian at The Historian and the Chef, a cooking blog with a historical twist.