The Right to Choose an Assisted Death: Time for Legislation?
Australia21, Weston, ACT, ISBN 978-0-987-3991-3-7
32 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2016 Last revised: 26 Aug 2016
Date Written: 2013
The legal framework that operates at the end of life in Australia needs to be reformed.
• Voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently unlawful.
• Both activities nevertheless occur not infrequently in Australia, in part because palliative care cannot relieve physical and psychological pain and suffering in all cases.
• In this respect, the law is deficient. The law is also unfair because it doesn’t treat people equally. Some people can be helped to die on their own terms as a result of their knowledge and/or connections while some are able to hasten their death by the refusal of life-sustaining treatment. But others do not have access to the means for their life to end.
• A very substantial majority of Australians have repeatedly expressed in public opinion polls their desire for law reform on these matters. Many are concerned at what they see is happening to their loved ones as they reach the end of their lives, and want the confidence that when their time comes they will be able to exercise choice in relation to assisted dying.
• The most consistent reason advanced not to change the law is the need to protect the vulnerable. There is a concern that if the law allows voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide for some people, it will be expanded and abused, including pressures being placed on highly dependent people and those with disabilities to agree to euthanasia.
• But there is now a large body of experience in a number of international jurisdictions following the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and/or assisted suicide. This shows that appropriate safeguards can be implemented to protect vulnerable people and prevent the abuse that opponents of assisted dying have feared. It reveals that assisted dying meets a real need among a small minority of people at the end of their lives. It also provides reassurance to people with terminal and incurable disease that they will not be left to suffer the indignities and discomfort of a nasty death.
• Australia is an increasingly secular society. Strong opposition to assisted death by religious groups that is based on their belief in divine sanctity of all human life is not a justification for denying choice for those who do not share that belief.
• It is now time for Australian legislators to respond to this concern and this experience by legislating to enhance the quality of death for those Australians who seek assisted dying.
Keywords: Voluntary euthanasia, Assisted suicide, Law reform, Health law, Medical law, Australia 21
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