Ethical Rights

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Euthanasia Introduction

1. This paper has been prepared as a submission on the Exposure Draft of the Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Bill 2014.

2. If the Bill were enacted, it would create a regulatory regime for voluntary euthanasia. It would ‘recognise the right of a mentally competent adult who is suffering intolerably from a terminal illness to request a medical practitioner to provide medical services that allows the person to end his or her life peacefully, humanely and with dignity’. The enactment of the Bill will provide a humane, moral and civilised outcome for Australia.

3. This submission is provided in my capacity as Director of Ethical Rights Pty Ltd. I am a scientist, ethicist and ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International, the voluntary euthanasia organisation headed by Dr Philip Nitschke. I have been a strong advocate for individual rights and voluntary euthanasia since the 1990s. In this time I have been disappointed by the attitude, even arrogance, of those who think they know what is better for patients than the patients themselves. Whether or not I ever have the desire to request voluntary euthanasia, I want the option of voluntary euthanasia.

4. Many thousands of Australians, including hundreds of Canberrans, have acquired illegal drugs (imported or manufactured Nembutal) or other means by which they could terminate their lives peacefully without drugs. Flagrant breaches of the law have occurred because of Australians’ demand for dignity in death and the lack of a voluntary euthanasia regulatory system.

5. Australia cannot continue to let people suffer when they are in the most desperate of situations. We must not let people live without dignity, suffer or vomit faecal matter if they are in the terminal stages of cancer (if living like that is not their preference). A large majority of Australians are dissatisfied with governments’ ban on the right to die with dignity. Properly regulated voluntary euthanasia, as proposed by this Bill, must be permitted.

6. People should never be able to deny other Australians the right to choose. That would be arrogant. A denial of rights through imposing one’s religious beliefs on others is a policy that even Barack Obama, using abortion as an example, has deplored. He said, ‘if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all’. The same argument applies to voluntary euthanasia.

7. In Part 1 of this paper, I examine arguments in support of voluntary euthanasia, supporting the rights of individual citizens, and the desirability of the enactment of the Bill. In Part 2, I rebut the main arguments against voluntary euthanasia, which could be used against the Bill. I do not examine the Bill in explicit detail.

8. The arguments in this submission stand on their own if they are considered with an open mind, objectively and devoid of cultural and religious bias. The consequence of this is that the Committee should recommend that the Bill be enacted. Amendments may be required to ensure individual rights are upheld, and to address what is happening in the current unregulated environment. Senator Di Natale should be commended for his initiative in developing the Bill.

9. I would be happy to expand on my paper if required.


David Swanton


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