Otago V Vic University Debate: Strong arguments for and against euthanasia

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com – Contributed by Olexander Barnes

Debates on issues like euthanasia deserve the widest possible audience. 

It was fitting then that the lecture hall in the Otago campus next to Wellington hospital was packed full of people, all eager to hear a debate between the University of Otago Medical School and the Victoria University debating team. The subject, if Euthanasia should be legal in New Zealand.

The euthanasia debate was recently revived in New Zealand with Lawyer Lecretia Seales’ High Court bid to allow her doctor to assist her to die in the course of her battle with terminal brain cancer.

Otago Medical School hosted the debate, in which they faced off against the debating team from Victoria University.

Otago’s debating team was comprised of a 4th year medical student, a master’s student in perinatal science, and a post-doctorate who specialises in neuroscience.

They faced Victoria University’s debating team comprised of a philosophy student, a law/politics student and a maths/economics student.

The audience was told at the beginning that because the teams had been assigned their sides at random, the debaters may be presenting views that were contrary to their own beliefs.

If this was the case the Otago side did not show it. They delivered their individual arguments with clear and concise passion in making a very strong case. They argued that euthanasia was a personal freedom that would allow people to escape from unnecessary suffering and for the right of a person to choose their own treatment.

The Victoria team put their debating skills on show. The first of their arguments was the standard argument, of sanctity of life, but instead of taking a religious tack justifying this argument they took a mathematical/scientific stance stating the incredibly improbable odds of an individual existing at all. They also raised the issue that people may be coerced by family members or their own feelings of being a burden in making their choice.

They were tactical and showed that they had put careful thought into their arguments but there was a general vibe that their delivery lacked the conviction of the Otago team.

As well as the debating teams there was also a panel. It was comprised of Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway who has in the past supported euthanasia initiatives in Parliament, Dr. Sinéad Donnelly, a Palliative Medicine Specialist doctor of over 25 years and senior lecturer from the University of Otago, and Dr Angela Ballantyne, a Bioethicist and senior lecturer at Otago.

Several times during the debate members of the panel were given the opportunity to express their own views and to comment on the debate.

Given the seriousness of the topic Iain Lees-Galloway brought a relatively light-hearted approach to comments. At the same time, he stressed that in any legislation there would be safeguards to ensure ethical practice.

Dr Sinéad Donnelly remained staunchly against euthanasia arguing that legalising it would be detrimental to the doctor-patient relationship, saying “Doctors are not meant to kill their patients”

Dr Angela Ballantyne took a neutral stance and critiqued both sides. She challenged several ideas that had been touched on including highlighting the dangers of using “slippery slope” as an argument.

The debate closed without there being a determined winner, though it was acknowledged that the debate was of the highest quality and the suggestion of more debates in the future was welcomed.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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