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A culture of death

By Rhys Jones - posted Tuesday, 22 June 2010

I can't help but feel we somehow have our priorities wrong in Australia. I hear a constant lobbying for euthanasia as though this were somehow an issue for most Australians. And in contradiction to the constant calls for legalising the killing of our fellow human beings, there is the almost deathly silence about the abortion rate in Australia.

At least some of the difficulty is that the debate seems to be polarised with the religious on one side and the secular on the other. However, it is about time that secular Australians started looking more carefully at these two issues.

First to the problems with euthanasia.


Legalising euthanasia is completely unnecessary and carries with it a number of risks. All Australians, other than those who lack the mental capacity or who are actually insane (people who would be prevented from accessing any formal voluntary euthanasia program anyway), are perfectly entitled to end their own lives. They can choose any method they like. Most people suffering terminal illness in intractable pain will have access to a large supply of medication such as morphine they can use to kill themselves. Alternatively they could hang or drown or gas themselves. It doesn't sound like much fun, but who ever said suicide should be fun. The very fact that suicide is an unpleasant business provides a real check and balance to ensure that only those whose life has genuinely become unbearable will indulge in it.

There may be a small number of individuals who lack the physical capacity to carry out an active suicide, but even these can starve themselves to death or refuse antibiotics and succumb to infection.

I fail to understand why anyone would want to go through the alternative of a legal system - where one required the permission of a doctor and had to undergo “counselling” in order to be allowed to kill yourself. I will go see a doctor if I want to get better. If I simply want to die I fail to see how a doctor is qualified to help me; or somehow knows better than I do what is in my interest. Doctors have too much power over our access to medical treatment as it is, without giving them power over our death as well.

Proposed euthanasia laws overturn a fundamental legal principle - that no one may legally take the life of another in our society. This is a slippery slope down which we should be reluctant to slide. We risk placing the elderly and infirm in a position whereby they feel obliged to be euthanised to relieve the burden on their families and carers. In a country like Australia with an ageing population there will definitely be some unscrupulous individuals who actively place pressure on their elderly relatives to be euthanised before they use up all their potential inheritance on medical and nursing home fees. By legalising euthanasia we will open the door for them to do so.

Suicide needs to be kept a private matter carried out by an individual for their own reasons and by their own means. Not something given the rubber stamp of government approval.

It simply comes down to the fact that almost no one will benefit from voluntary euthanasia laws.


The reverse to the great push for the legalising of euthanasia is the almost total absence of debate on abortion. Abortion kills some 80,000 unborn babies every year in this country (unfortunately no accurate statistics are kept on this matter, which demonstrates this nation’s apathy towards abortion). All the clever philosophical arguments that it is not morally wrong to kill a fetus miss a fundamental point. We know why it is wrong to kill a child or an adult. It is not because that person feels pain, as then the killing could be justified so long as it was painless. It is not because of our self awareness or hopes and dreams for the future, because then killing newborn babies would be just fine as they don't meet the criteria. And it’s not the secondary suffering of friends and relatives as this would provide a moral justification for killing those among us who have no friends or family.

Deep down we all know why it is wrong to kill another human being. It is because we deprive that person of the potential to live out the rest of their life.

How is that any different with a fetus? A fetus has more potential life in them than most of us and so we commit an even greater moral crime by killing one than by killing an adult. Once a fertilised egg has implanted itself in the uterus of a woman, provided it is left alone, it has all the potential of a long life filled with all the things that make life worth living for the rest of us. It is this potential that is important, not any other qualities that the fetus may or may not have such as the ability to feel pain or awareness of its surroundings.

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About the Author

Rhys Jones is a psychiatric nurse and is studying law at Murdoch University in Perth.

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