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Euthanasia and assisted suicide laws - no one is ever satisfied

By Paul Russell - posted Wednesday, 11 January 2017

It is perhaps a statement of the obvious that those who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide are never happy about the passage of such laws. Paradoxically, those that propose them and those that support them are never really satisfied either.

There are a number of ways we can look at this reality. The most obvious angle is that, no matter how the laws are framed, there will always be a developing tension over time created by and on behalf of people who don't qualify. Such is the case at the moment in Canada where, in an act of appeasement to get their law through the Ottawa Parliament last year, a promise was made to look further into euthanasia and assisted suicide for minors, for mental health reasons and via advance directives. Studies are now underway to advance these causes.

The activists wanted more - but that would have been a bridge too far in the first instance.


A closely related tension also exists during the debate on such laws and in their design. Euthanasia and assisted suicide proposals slide along a continuum. Beginning at the extant prohibition, the further the proposals move away from that point, the more liberal and inclusive they become. At the same time, protections or 'safeguards' as they are often called are rendered more meaningless and simply vapourise in direct relationship to the distance away from prohibition.

The tension here is essentially between what pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide activists want and what they will ultimately settle for so as to gain a majority vote.

In South Australia last year a bill was put forward that was a long way down that line.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 was in essence very similar to the Belgium euthanasia model. It did not limit access to terminal illness but rather simply to a subjective 'test' of 'unbearable' and 'hopeless' suffering. Though it was claimed to be otherwise, so-called supposed 'safeguards' were notable by their absence.

The bill was rightly set to be rejected by a significant majority of parliamentarians when, at the eleventh hour, a raft of amendments were tabled by the proposer; a clear example of compromise in an attempt to get the bill through.

That the schedule of amendments constituted more clauses and more pages of text than the original bill is testament to both the laxity of the original proposal and the number of concerns raised even by MPs who supported the idea but not the particular form. The new form was itself rightly rejected by the slimmest of margins.


Was the first bill an ambit claim or not? Hard to tell. But euthanasia and assisted suicide without restrictions based upon a false claim to a 'right to die' and qualified by nothing more than a subjective assessment of unbearable suffering is surely the ultimate; the end goal in the euthanasia 'long game'.

Inveterate US Blogger and Nurse, Nancy Valko provided a further example of this argy-bargy and dissatisfaction in regards to the assisted suicide bill passed by the District of Columbia in December. She writes:

In a December 2016 commentary article titled "End of Life Liberty in DC" for a publication supported by the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, lawyer and long-time assisted suicide activist Kathryn L. Tucker surprisingly criticizes the new assisted suicide law quietly signed into law by the mayor of Washington, DC. this month.

While most people might believe that passage of yet another assisted suicide law would be cause for celebration for assisted suicide activists, Ms. Tucker is unhappy with the so-called "safeguards" in the DC law...

Ms. Tucker now complains about the "many burdens and restrictions imposed" by these "safeguards" which, ironically, are added by assisted suicide activists themselves when they "routinely face arguments of insufficient 'safeguards'.

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This article was first published on Hope.

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About the Author

Paul Russell is the Director of HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide

Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Paul Russell

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

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