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Who can tell when it is right to die?

By Pat Power - posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The article “Right to die should be my own” by David Swanton, ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International (Canberra Times, 31 January) reduces an important public argument to an attack on people who hold religious beliefs.

The euthanasia debate is a passionate one. End of life issues are very serious matters which deserve careful consideration.


Swanton argues that: “Euthanasia is defined as a deliberate act intended to cause the death of a patient, at that patient’s request, for what he/she sees as being in his/her best interests. Clearly, euthanasia’s voluntary nature is implicit in this definition, and this is recognised by the 80-85 per cent of Australians who support it.”

I am always suspicious of inflated figures of people supposedly supporting euthanasia. Very often it is rather support for a stance which allows patients to refuse or discontinue excessive and invasive treatment which has been used to prolong their life. Clearly, that is not euthanasia.

Each time I visit Clare Holland house, I am humbled to witness the care given to terminally ill patients, the efforts made to minimise pain and anxiety, the dignity afforded to dying people and the support given to family and friends. Modern palliative care with all its advances did not rate a single mention in Swanton’s article.

Swanton defines euthanasia as “a deliberate act intended to cause the death of a patient, at that patient’s request, for what he or she sees as being in his/her best interests.”

So, following this definition, if I were chronically depressed, or had become bankrupt or was about to be charged with a crime that involved a long prison sentence, and I decided that being dead would be in my best interests, a doctor should be able to cause my death (regardless of alternatives such as medical or psychiatric treatment).


It should also be noted that the claim in the article that euthanasia is always voluntary becomes problematic with its legalisation. The experience in countries where euthanasia has become readily available has been that it leads to a significant reduction in palliative care. The experience of patients can be an overwhelming pressure to die quickly and efficiently. Imagine the pressure on old and seriously ill patients to accept euthanasia so as not to be a burden on family, the medical profession and others caring for them.

Much of Swanton’s article, and other articles he has written on this matter, attack people with religious beliefs. It is suggested by some that those with principles and a view of the world that involves religious belief should leave these at the door of Parliament. It would be a frightening prospect to be governed by a group of people lacking in any deeply held principles.

Swanton would have us believe that those who oppose euthanasia have views that are undemocratic, arrogant, hypocritical and wrong. He then launches into a tirade against those people who view life differently to himself. I found it incredible to read him defending euthanasia lest “governments waste billions of taxpayers’ dollars keeping alive terminally ill people who do not wish to be kept alive”. Reducing the argument to a crass monetary level is demeaning.

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About the Author

Pat Power is Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, 2009 Canberran of the Year and Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Health and Community Services.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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