Euthanasia: is it just?

Essay by marc24 March 2004

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Position paper on euthanasia


In the last decade or so several countries have taken action aimed at guaranteeing the right of adult patients of sound mind to direct that extraordinary measures to prolong life be stopped. South Australia passed the Natural Death Act in 1983, Victoria the Medical Treatment Act in 1988, the Northern Territory the Natural Death Act in 1988 and the Australian Capital Territory the Medical Treatment Act in 1994. NSW issued "interim guidelines" in 1993.

To the extent that these legislative provisions dealt with the right of a patient to refuse current medical treatment, it is doubtful whether they made a significant difference to medical practice. Even without the legislation, the right of patients to withhold consent to treatment was generally accepted. This paper is not about withdrawal or rejection of unwanted medical treatment. It is about euthanasia - ie, active killing.

The perceived need to legalise euthanasia

Suicide is legal in all Australian states and territories.

If you want to kill yourself, you can do so. Noone has any right to stop you, unless they can show you are insane. Various popular books are available which give details of reliable methods. If a person says (s)he wishes to die, is not immobilised by disease, yet remains alive, (s)he is plainly not serious about wishing to die, but has expressed a false wish for some reason (eg in order to gain attention or sympathy). However, some people who wish to commit suicide are incapacitated to such an extent that they would be unable to commit suicide without assistance. Killing a person in these circumstances can be described as "voluntary euthanasia".

Both mental and physical incapacity are relevant. Solutions which have been proposed to address impediments to suicide which arise from various forms of incapacity.

Bills presented...