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Can voluntary Euthanasia be contained?

By Marshall Perron - posted Wednesday, 15 May 2002

In the debate about wether we should legalise voluntary euthanasia, the statement is often made that "No adequate safeguards could be devised to protect the vulnerable in our society". The vulnerable are described as the poor, the uneducated, the frail, aged and the disabled.

Opponents to voluntary euthanasia have been very successful at convincing politicians that no law could be drafted which would prevent the ‘vulnerable’ becoming unwilling victims, put to death against their will or at the very least being afraid of doctors who would have a ‘licence to kill’.

These unsubstantiated claims have been seized upon by politicians reluctant to become embroiled in this most controversial subject. The phrase "No adequate safeguards could be devised" is probably the most used excuse of all, a convenient scapegoat to avoid addressing the issue.


The fact is safeguards can be drawn up that would ensure only genuinely suffering, hopelessly or terminally ill adults, acting voluntarily, were able to receive medical assistance to die peacefully at a time of their choosing. To claim this cannot be done is to ignore or misrepresent the authority Parliament has to enact laws for the benefit of our society.

Any responsible law on voluntary euthanasia would include safeguards covering seven important areas :-

  • To ensure the patient and others are acting voluntarily.
  • To avoid misdiagnosis.
  • To ensure the patient is fully informed.
  • To ensure the patient is not acting hastily.
  • To prevent a conspiracy between the doctor and the family to murder the patient.
  • To avoid perceptions that patients need fear doctors.
  • To monitor VE as practiced.

These topics must be covered to ensure that the system is not abused and that no person has anything to fear from enabling legislation .

The first requirement is absolute, and must be included in any responsible legislation, only the patient can initiate a request for euthanasia.

The worldwide voluntary euthanasia movement is based on the principle of individual autonomy. In the words of John Stuart Mill "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others … over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."


Legislation must clearly provide that a spouse, members of the family and/or the doctor, cannot initiate a request on behalf of the patient.

Voluntary euthanasia is not simply voluntary for the patient, it’s voluntary for everybody involved in the process and each individual’s right to retain autonomy in this respect must also be protected by legislation. Any doctor, specialist, psychiatrist, chemist or nurse required to be involved in fulfilling a patient's request for assistance to die, must do so voluntarily. Anyone involved has the option not to be involved.

This is a voluntary process between consenting adults.

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About the Author

Marshall Perron is the former Northern Territory Chief minister who introduced Voluntary Euthanasia legislation to the Northern Territory Parliament.

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