Until recently, assisting another person to commit suicide was an offence everywhere in Australia. Then in 2017, Victoria changed the law to make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal. Western Australia may follow in 2019 if the recommendations of a parliamentary committee are adopted.
My new book, Euthanasia: Putting the Culture to Death?, argues that the danger of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide is that it will harm family relationships, damage the trust we place in the medical profession, and corrode the bonds of civil society forged between individuals within communities.
Yet mounting pressure to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia is a one-way ratchet, asserting the primacy of individual choice. Euthanasia advocates insist nothing can ever outweigh that choice. But we need to weigh the impact of that choice on wider society.
Euthanasia advocates call it “dying with dignity”, but this is an empty phrase used largely for rhetorical effect, to mask fears about what happens before death.
Suicide in Australia is a national tragedy and the leading cause of premature death. Until 2017, it was an offence everywhere in Australia to assist another person to commit suicide. Campaigns to change the law, will lead to the normalisation of selective killing. However, euphemisms abound in the debate because there is a reluctance to acknowledge that what is sometimes called ‘voluntary assisted dying’, actually involves the act of killing another human being.
When euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates appeal to the principle of ‘personal autonomy’, they fail to see this is inconsistent with their argument that important restrictions would also be placed on the availability of euthanasia.
Legalisation would mark the first move down a ‘slippery slope’ that would see the categories of eligibility expand, eroding the moral significance of killing human beings. Concern about what things will be like at the bottom of the slope justify great caution about the decision taken at the top.
Once the answer to suffering becomes the medical elimination of the sufferer, it is hard to see how any limits can be placed around the human experience of suffering.
Doctors are to heal, not to harm, and the motive of ‘compassion’ is not enough to justify extending the role of doctors to include the act of killing. When society permits some of its citizens to be killed, it tears the fabric of community and threatens to put the culture itself to death.
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