In my previous life as a veterinarian I lost count of the number of domestic animals I euthanised. I had no qualms about this; in each case the decision to take life was made to end unacceptable suffering.
The animals, of course, had no say in it. That is why I decline to use the term euthanasia when it comes to humans. No one has the right to decide for another whether they should live or die.
Yet that is what is happening right now. People are being killed because of the absence of assisted suicide legislation.
When treating the terminally ill, doctors routinely ramp up the morphine beyond what is necessary in the knowledge that this will likely kill the patient. In many of these cases, it is done despite being well aware that the patient has never given consent to such action.
If assisted suicide legislation was in place, patients would have the legal means to make it clear to doctors how they wished to be treated in the final stage of their life. A doctor who chose to ignore the wishes of a patient who had clearly made it plain that they want to live despite any pain and suffering would do so at their own peril.
The point is that the choice should be available.
Twenty years ago the right to choose was removed from the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Norfolk Island. The Commonwealth’s Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, pushed through by Liberal backbencher and conservative Christian Kevin Andrews, not only stripped the rights of residents in these territories to decide for themselves on the issue of assisted dying; it also overturned the NT’s existing Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, under which three people had already opted to make use of physician assisted suicide.
Last year the Victorian Government legalised assisted dying for the terminally ill, with MPs voting to give patients the right to request a lethal drug to end their lives from mid-2019.
Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 is a step in the right direction, but it does not cater for those who are experiencing intolerable suffering yet are not terminally ill.
Few Australians would have been unmoved by the story of 104 year-old scientist David Goodall, who travelled to Switzerland earlier this year to end his life. Professor Goodall was not ill. At 104 you could argue he was certainly dying, yet the human condition dictates that from the moment we are born, we all begin to die.
For this centenarian, it was simply about quality of life. He had lived a full and productive existence; but with his physical independence gone, life had simply become “unsatisfactory”.
No one could argue he had anything but full mental capacity. Just hours before his death he made a point of correcting the Swiss clinic’s paperwork that erroneously stated he wished to end his life due to illness.
It was an important point to make. Even when Victoria’s legislation comes into force next year, Professor Goodall would not have qualified for voluntary assisted dying in that state.
The Andrews Bill has been law for more than two decades with no attempts made to repeal it, even when we had an atheist Labor Prime Minister and the Greens had the balance of power in the Senate.
My Assisted Suicide Bill, which seeks to overturn the Andrews Bill, has been on the Notice Paper since 2015.
Close to two years ago Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull guaranteed my private bill a full debate and vote in both houses. It took some negotiation to get this deal, and further cajoling and threats to get it delivered. Some parties talk about what they hope to achieve, but don’t do what is necessary to make it happen. The Liberal Democrats are willing to use what little power we have for good.
According to 2016 Census data, almost one third of Australians now classify themselves as having no religion. If your religious convictions tell you the idea of taking your own life is inconceivable, then the obvious response is to not avail yourself of this choice. But you should not make decisions for others who harbour no such convictions and believe they should not be forced to endure insufferable pain to protect your religious beliefs.
I look forward to the Andrews bill being repealed soon. Its time is up. It should not have been allowed to sit on the statute book, and to cause unnecessary suffering for Australians, for this long.
David Leyonhjelm is a senator for the Liberal Democrats