Euthanasia: latest frontier for legalised death in Australia

Euthanasia: latest frontier for legalised death in Australia

Babette Francis

Archbishop Adrian Doyle of Hobart has warned against the Euthanasia Bill currently before the Tasmanian Parliament. "Even if some people are in favour of euthanasia, that still does not make it right", the Archbishop said. "As a society we must be respectful of the sacred nature of human life and having this mistaken sense of compassion certainly isn't respectful of human dignity."

Pro-life groups throughout Australia have been concerned about the Green Party's influence on the Tasmanian state government's policy on euthanasia. What is supposedly a Private Member's Bill on the issue has been raised in the Attorney-General's Budget reply speech, giving the appearance  of government approval for legalising euthanasia.

Greens leader Nick McKim's "Dying with Dignity Bill" had been resoundingly defeated in the Lower House last November.


"I am concerned", said Archbishop Doyle, "by the fact that despite being rejected less than a year ago by the Parliament of Tasmania, the Attorney-General (Lara Giddings) has chosen to raise this issue again in conjunction with Mr McKim.

"There are many consequences for all Tasmanians, especially those working in health and aged care, with the previous Private Member's Bill failing to adequately address these wider concerns. It is concerning that there is a perception in our community which claims that euthanasia is a dignified death, promoting the premise that any other avenue of death is 'undignified' and that euthanasia (or medically  assisted suicide) is the only method of a dignified death.

"I am equally concerned that the Attorney General will use the resources of her office to push this Bill when there are so many more issues which are a higher priority, such as mental health, welfare, hospital and housing waiting lists and education."

Besides Tasmania, Euthanasia Bills are also pending in WA, SA and could possibly be introduced in the Federal Parliament when the number of Green Senators increases to nine in July next year.

Those voters who consider euthanasia acceptable, usually only consider it ethically justifiable in limited circumstances: for people who are terminally ill and in serious unrelieved pain and suffering. They regard euthanasia as a last resort. However, current euthanasia proponents are going much further and demanding that people's rights to autonomy enshrine the right to die whenever they wish to do so, and that governments have no right to stop them.

They argue that "freely consenting adults have a right to do whatever they want to with their bodies" so long as it does not hurt anyone else. We have heard that mantra before in the context of sexual activity and it got us epidemics of abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. And the "consenting adults" limitation gets wound back to adolescents of 16 - or even 12 years of age.   

So with euthanasia and assisted suicide. In the Netherlands, children of 12 can be euthanased with the consent of their parents, as can severely disabled infants.

The Netherlands' 30-year experience with euthanasia shows the rapid expansion in the practice because now none of the requirements of being terminally ill or in severe pain apply.

Once legalised, like abortion, euthanasia cannot be controlled.

In Britain a new group campaigning for the legalisation of assisted suicide believes it should not be limited to those who are terminally ill. The Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS), led by former GP Michael Irwin, says that pensioners should have the right to declare "enough is enough" and die with dignity.

Irwin, known as "Dr Death," says he knows of an elderly English woman who is considering taking her life through Dignitas, the notorious Swiss company that helps people to kill themselves. She is suffering from progressive arthritis and worsening eyesight. He believes that many more will want to take the same course of action as Britain's population ages.

Last year a landmark court case won by Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, forced the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to set out exactly when prosecutions would be brought against people who assist another's suicide. But the new campaign group, SOARS, wants to legalise assisted suicide with the help of a doctor for those who are merely tired of life because of their age and health problems rather than a terminal disease.

This new campaign is resisted by pro-life/human rights groups, religious groups and charities representing elderly and disabled people, who fear a 'right' to die will be seen by many as a duty to die. They believe any suggestion that society agrees some people's lives are not worth living will be taken by the vulnerable as a sign that they should kill themselves to relieve the burden on carers.

Somehow pro-lifers have to find a way of  ameliorating the social isolation of those so desperately lonely that they seek death.

Lecture tour

Endeavour Forum Inc. has sponsored a lecture tour in October by Alex Schadenberg, founder of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, who helped defeat the recent Euthanasia Bill in the Canadian Parliament. Schadenberg is to speak on "Caring, not Killing" and his schedule is as follows:

Perth: 11 October 2010, contact John Barich, Australian Family Association, (08) 9277 1222.

Adelaide: 12 October 2010, contact Damian Wyld, Australian Family Association, (08) 8379 0246.

Melbourne: 13 October 2010, contact Prue Oldham, Endeavour Forum Inc., (03) 9583 6835.

Tasmania: 14-15 October 2010, contact Chiang Lim, NSW Right to Life Association, (02) 9299 8350 or 0427 277 299.

ACT: 15 October 2010, contact Kath Woolf, ACT Right to Life Association,  (02) 6251 5786 or Geoff Mongan (02) 6161 0711.

Sydney: 16 October 2010, contact Chiang Lim, NSW Right to Life Association, (02) 9299 8350 or 0427 277 299.

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