Respected Academic David Goodall has decided to travel to Switzerland this week to end his life. The ABC reports that he resents the fact that he has been left with no other choice.
The ACT Liberal Democrats believe that adults like Dr Goodall should have the right to end their lives painlessly, at a time of their choosing, and to be legally able to obtain information and assistance to do so with dignity.
However, in the ACT, this right is hampered by federal law prohibiting the ACT from legislating to allow adults to make such choices. Moreover, when the Victorian legislation on assisted dying is implemented it would only allow residents of that state to participate in what appears to be a cumbersome and bureaucratic scheme.
The ACT Liberal Democrats have called for all Federal politicians to support Senator David Leyonhjelm’s private Member’s bill “Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation)” which is targeted at repealing the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997.
Access to voluntary assisted dying should not be hampered by compromises and bureaucracy as is inherent in the recent Victorian legislation. It must also adequately safeguard express intention and consent.
The risks of not introducing voluntary assisted dying far outweigh the possible risks of its introduction. Many people are in unnecessary pain and suffering right now.
Under current law in Australia (including the Victorian model when it comes into operation) limited options force many people in pain and suffering to take matters into their own hands – often ending their lives prematurely and in distressing ways while they can still exercise control over their own fate. In other cases, people are forced to rely on doctors or their family to either act unlawfully or in an uncertain legal environment.
Claims that allowing assisted dying is a slippery slope that will harm the vulnerable are unwarranted. Overseas models for assisted dying have not been abused – research shows that assisted dying in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Oregon has not increased risks among vulnerable groups such as older people, the uninsured, the poor, the physically disabled or chronically ill, and people with psychiatric illnesses. Other research indicates that the legal criteria that apply to an individual’s request for assisted dying are well respected, that requests for assistance are valid; and third parties who assist individuals to die do not act unlawfully.
The model used in Switzerland provides the benchmark for any voluntary assisted dying scheme as it is a patient-centred approach based on self-determination. Its system of reporting and investigation of all suicides limits the scope for abuse and enables strong enforcement if necessary.
Provided that the person assisting another to die is not motivated by selfish motives an offence has not been committed under the Swiss model. This means that assistance can be provided by friends and relatives. With no requirement that doctors be involved, the vast majority of assisted suicides are not directly supervised by doctors and assistance is often provided by voluntary organisations such as Exit.
In contrast, the Victorian scheme has many deficiencies that undermine its main purpose of meeting the needs of those making free end of life choices. In addition to the unnecessary residency requirement, its scope is too narrow by not covering the range of immense suffering possible across the human experience. And by vesting power in the State to determine what must be endured and what it is possible to endure, it is unnecessarily paternalistic and bureaucratic.
Most alarming though is that its cumbersome timeframes may prolong suffering against the patient’s wishes. It thereby runs the risk that many people will die from their medical condition before they can do so under Victoria’s process.
It is time to allow the ACT to legislate for assisted dying.
Read the ACT LDP Submission here.
Stephen Clively provided policy advice to the ACT branch of the Liberal Democratic Party’s submission on End of Life Choices.