In 1995 Marshall Perron, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, introduced a private member's bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia. Perron introduced the bill as a private member even though he was Chief Minister as he wanted the subsequent debate and vote to be non-partisan. This was the most liberal euthanasia bill ever introduced. Perron was said to be influenced in this matter by the agonising and lingering deaths of his mother and a close friend.
The Territory Parliament passed the bill and four people used the resulting legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI), to put an end to their existence in a dignified manner. There was a national furore, and Kevin Andrews, a Roman Catholic Commonwealth Parliamentarian apparently influenced by his religious allegiance, introduced a private member's bill to overturn ROTI. The vote was a conscience vote, but Prime Minister Howard and Opposition leader Kim Beazley made known their support for the legislation. The Andrews bill was enacted, and ROTI was overturned.
I will be 84 this month and am in good health, but I don't know what the future will bring. I belong to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Queensland which seeks to have ROTI or similar legislation enacted.
At this time the Senate Community Affairs References Committee is conducting an "Inquiry into Suicide in Australia". Follow the link for details. The committee is open to submissions until November 20, 2009.
I will probably supply the following to the committee:
My former wife’s father committed suicide. He was in his 90s and had no physical ailments that I know of. He was living in his oldest daughter’s house, and I think their relations were amicable. His grandson found him in the bathroom with his throat cut. There was no suicide note.
He had been fiercely independent during his life. After his wife died he lived alone for a number of years and farmed. His oldest daughter took him in, as she was concerned about his living alone.
I can only speculate on the reason for his action. I think he resented the fact that he was no longer independent. Possibly he felt his future was meaningless as he could no longer provide for himself and decided to end it.
In my opinion his act was almost completely reasonable. His grandson who found him was a sensitive person who was disturbed by finding his grandfather’s body. If there had been a mechanism by which he could have discussed his wishes with his family and carried them out in a way that would cause the minimum distress that would have been better. He might have decided not to do it if he could have freely discussed his feelings. We make suicide a lonely act by sanctions against it.
My cousin who was a lovely girl committed suicide during World War II. She had an emotional parting from her boyfriend who went off to war. He was killed in action shortly after he went overseas, and my cousin found herself pregnant. She also left no note, but her action seemed due to her situation. Her mother was not a person she could talk to, abortion was illegal and she apparently saw no way out besides death.
Her death was a terrible waste of a beautiful human being. If she could have discussed the situation with somebody or had there been more alternatives available she might still be alive.
I ask that a person who wishes to end his or her existence could be helped to do so in a suitable way if their wish is rational. After determination that it is a rational act the person can be helped to end her or his existence in a way that minimises suffering both to the person and to those who must deal with the consequences of the act. Discussion and medical examination can reveal whether the person is suffering from depression which can be treated or reacting to life circumstances that can be improved, as opposed to rational suicide where the situation cannot be changed for the better and life is no longer worth living.
Discussion with a qualified person in the two cases cited above would probably have resulted in different outcomes. The old man could have been assisted to die in a dignified manner, and the young woman could have been encouraged to deal with her situation and get on with her life.
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