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An Australian way of death: voluntary assisted dying

By Spencer Gear - posted Thursday, 19 March 2020


John is 65 and has been suffering from cancer for many years. The pain is too much. When he asks his doctor to put him to sleep permanently (kill him!), should the doctor agree? Jean has such severe dementia, lies in bed for much of the day and is in a vegetative state in an aged care facility. She doesn't recognise me when I visit her.

In the twenty-first century, there is considerable public support for euthanasia to be legalised across Australia. There is a minority group of medical practitioners, Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice, that is supportive of euthanasia in certain circumstances.

The dangers of the majority view

According to The Guardian Australia Edition "a nationwide poll of 1,032 people conducted by Essential Research has found that 73% of Australians support voluntary assisted dying" (VAD).

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If a majority of people agree with a position, does that make it right? An Appeal to Popularity is a logical fallacy that is difficult to notice because it sounds like common sense if the majority of people agree with it. The falsehood is that it doesn't deal with the content of why VAD is right or wrong for a society or individual.

What is voluntary assisted dying?

Let's get it clear what euthanasia (VAD) is. We are sometimes confused by the current debate because it seems some are talking about disconnecting life support systems. Others think we deny the patients' rights to say, "This is enough. I want no extraordinary means to be used to keep me alive when all hope of physical life seems to be gone".

We don't need euthanasia for this. It is the common law right of all Australians to decide which treatments they want to have for themselves. We have legislation for an enduring power of attorney and an advanced health directive to cover these medical situations.

Euthanasia is "the intentional killing of a person, for compassionate motives, whether the killing is by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or by failing to perform an action necessary to maintain life. For euthanasia to occur there must be an intention to kill".

Now, euthanasia promoters don't use the word "kill", but it is the only accurate word to describe the reality of what happens. Besides, it is the word that our current law uses. Retired anaesthetist and palliative care physician at Concord Hospital, Sydney, Dr Brian Pollard, stated, "Euthanasia is a form of homicide - even if legalised, it would be legalised homicide. Intention is central to the concept".

Sad and distressing cases are put forth so that it is made to appear there is a vast amount of suffering for which nothing less than death is good enough. Yet, I am told that those who practise palliative care with the terminally ill encounter few requests for euthanasia by patients. Too often, the distressed relatives who often feel impotent, sense a lack of support, and may be encountering a financial burden, are the ones calling for euthanasia.

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I do not reject euthanasia because of the results it is likely to cause.

When Luke Gormally, director of London's Linacre Bio-Ethics Centre, was in Australia he warned that legalising euthanasia could lead to "killing the disabled and dependent for economic reasons". He also warned that euthanasia would endorse youth suicide because of the "wholly negative message" it would send to youth.

What will stop Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Canada, certain USA states and Australia from getting to this example once the slippery slope has begun? The Atlantic (3 Sept 2014) reported this story:

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About the Author

Spencer Gear PhD (University of Pretoria, South Africa) is a retired counselling manager, independent researcher, retired minister of the The Christian & Missionary Alliance of Australia, and freelance writer living in Brisbane Qld, Australia.

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