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Matters of life and death

by August 9, 2016 General

The intriguing question is not whether the pill causes an abortion but how the hell did the seemingly never-ending argument about it start in the first place

The ethical issues raised by the morning-after pill and euthanasia have recently taken over the bulk of the arguments going on the printed and the social media. Were it not for the Prime Minister going to Singapore with Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi for the launch of the LNG vessel that will fuel the gas power station at Delimara, the Panama Papers revelations were almost forgotten. Someone must have thought that this was a photo opportunity not to be missed. In the circumstances, this was unwise indeed.

What intrigues me is how the big argument about a very small thing – the morning-after pill – surfaced in the media and how it alienated the public from much more serious issues. Let me first declare my position: I am satisfied that no scientific studies have determined that this pill is an abortifacient and that it should therefore be freely available to whoever needs it as an emergency contraceptive.

The intriguing question is not whether the pill causes an abortion but how the hell did the seemingly never-ending argument about it start in the first place. It started when the Women’s Rights Foundation filed a judicial protest to ensure the availability of emergency contraception in case of unprotected sexual intercourse.

Suddenly all hell broke loose. Conveniently for the government, almost everybody immediately put the Panama Papers on the back burner and joined the scuffle for the sanctity of life, our Christian heritage and what not. I do not, for one moment, think that Joseph Muscat or his acolytes suggested that the issue should be immediately raised to that hallowed ground where good is continually struggling to fight evil, but the issue served to alienate the public from what I consider to be more important issues.

The funny thing is that all this mostly academic debate – whether during the joint Parliamentary family, health and social affairs committee meeting or in the press and the social media – left everybody where they were before it surfaced. Nobody seems to have persuaded anybody.

I liked the way the head of the Medicines Authority, Anthony Serracino Inglott, replied when he was asked whether there is evidence that the pill is not abortifacient: “Should I ask the Archbishop for proof that a priest isn’t a paedophile?”

When Opposition MP Paula Mifsud Bonnici asked the medicines regulator head whether he excludes that the morning-after pill is abortifacient, he replied: “Can you prove to me that salt isn’t poisonous? Can you prove that petrol isn’t an abortifacient?”

The onus of the proof lies on those who insist that the pill is abortifacient and not on those who say there is no proof that it is. One can hardly prove a negative!

Meanwhile nobody was paying any attention to the Opposition’s reaction to the new cases of possible corruption that reared their ugly heads. Indeed the Opposition’s position of not taking an official stand on the issue while many of its MPs clearly opposed the availability of the morning-after pill in Malta continued to serve to alienate the public’s attention from the more serious issues that the current administration prefers to sweep under the carpet.

Obviously the Opposition has no strategy on how to concentrate the public’s attention on what matters. Instead of sifting the wheat from the chaff and concentrating on a few scandals, the Opposition keeps on clutching at all the straws that are blowing in the wind, so to say.

I am not so sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this morning-after pill business was a purposely planned red herring for the opposition and the conservative forces in Malta to help the government in alienating the public!

Eventually it proved to be a waste of time as apparently the morning after pill will soon be available without the government taking any steps and letting the Medicines Authority do its work.

The right to die

The other ethical issue that has taken a lot of space in both the print and the social media is euthanasia. It was started off by a person – Joe Magro – who suffers from that deadly neurodegenerative disease, ALS. He knows that eventually he will be imprisoned within his own useless body.

Magro, who is the first private citizen ever to have an issue debated in a Parliamentary committee at his own request, has stated publicly that unless euthanasia is introduced, he would rather commit suicide than go through the latter stages of ALS.

He also said Parliament should consider the individual’s right to choose to die, but stressed that the choice should only be granted to patients of terminal diseases that doctors certify as having no possible cure.

I sympathise with Magro’s position. Legalising euthanasia makes sense in certain cases but, like any other convention set up by man, it is open to abuse. The ethical issues involved are much more serious than the silly ones about the morning-after pill.

For me it is all about the dignity of mankind. We do not think twice before putting a pet to sleep so that it does not suffer any more and avoid a cruel painful death. Man, we were taught, is not an animal in that he has an eternal soul that animals do not have. This is the only reason that stands between legal euthanasia and leaving humans to rot slowly, while fully knowing that there is absolutely no chance of their returning to even a pretence of normal life.

The Church, that is dead set against euthanasia, has announced that it intends to set up a home to provide palliative care for people suffering terminal illnesses. That is to be commended and, in many cases, it will help avoid the possibility of one pondering about euthanasia.

Unfortunately this will do nothing to ensure that people like Joe Magro live their last years of their life with a semblance of dignity.

Dignity is not just the way people are treated. It also involves the way people feel about themselves and their life.

For people like Joe Magro the best palliative care in the world will only slightly impinge positively – if at all – on his dignity as a human being.

If human beings cannot enjoy even a fraction of the quality of life that makes them human, the possibility of euthanasia cannot be ignored.

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