Euthanasia’s Legal Status, Loopholes and Implications

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” ~ United Nations 

Competing Values 

Euthanasia has been the topic of much moral, religious and legal debate in Australia over the years. With much of this debate stemming from the attempt of reconciling competing values, the right to life and the human desire to die with dignity and without suffering.1

Legal Status of Euthanasia and Suicide in Australia 

The United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) does not have a clear stance on Euthanasia1. With article 6 of the UN policy stating  “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”This raises a number of questions including the scope of the right to life and what exactly is ‘arbitrary’ deprivation of life.1 This lack of clarity by the United Nations has led to many different interpretations and several attempts to legalise euthanasia. With one of these attempts, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 being passed in 1995 allowing for medically assisted voluntary euthanasia at the request of a terminally ill person.1  However in 1997 it became voided by the 1997 Euthanasia Law Act that removed the power of the territories to legalise euthanasia.3 The closest euthanasia has come to being legalised by a state was in Tasmania in 2013 however it was defeated in the Tasmanian House of Assembly by a vote of 13 to 12.

In Australia, suicide and attempted suicide is no longer a crime. It is, however, still an offence to assist a person committing suicide. If this act occurs as part of a suicide pact, the survivor will be guilty of manslaughter in Victoria and South Australia, while in New South Wales they will be subject to liability for aiding a suicide.

Current Loopholes 

As assisting a person to commit suicide is still a crime it has made it difficult for euthanasia advocate organisations to help those wanting a painless option to die. Max Dog Brewing however uses a loophole by officially selling nitrogen for carbonating beer, while at the same time also letting people know that using nitrogen is a painless option for those wishing to end their life. Although a painless option, due to the current state of the law it makes telling loved ones about their suicide plans difficult due to possible assisted suicide persecution by the law after their death.

Australians Between a Rock and a Hard Place 

The legalisation of euthanasia would give Australians a painless option to the ending of suffering while also allowing for final goodbyes to loved ones. Without euthanasia suffering Australians currently have only two tough choices either:

  1. Suffering on until their body finally gives out or…
  2. Making the lonely choice of a potentially painful suicide. This prevents final goodbyes to loved ones and can be very traumatic to those left behind.

Tightly regulated euthanasia would give Australians a preferable third option getting rid of the current forced decision between suffering on until death or taking their own life through suicide.

Possible Negative Implications of Unregulated Euthanasia 

While tightly regulated euthanasia would mitigate possible implications it is important to mention possibilities if only to remind us how important regulation is. Two of these implications are:

1. A Decrease in Quality Hospice and Palliative Care:  Often a request for suicide means that a need is not being met, often once these needs are fulfilled, suicidal desires disappear.  Physicians may subconsciously choose the easier option of euthanasia instead of fulfilling such needs. Oregon would appear to be an example of this, a survey of physicians who received the first 142 requests for assisted suicide since the law went into effect showed that in only 13% of cases was a palliative care consultation recommended6.  To be properly regulated a mandatory palliate care consultation should be required to help determine if such needs can be met, euthanasia should be a last resort after other avenues have been exhausted.

2. Development of a Duty to Die and Kill: There is concern that for the ‘right to die’ will soon become a ‘duty to die.’Many elderly people already feel a burden to family and as a result may feel pressure to request euthanasia. Additionally doctors are increasingly winning court battles for the right to withdraw treatment from ill patients. This futile care theory measures the value of human life according to the financial cost of keeping the individual alive. If legalised euthanasia may further encourage this withdrawal of treatment and with it further loss of patient autonomy. This fear of loss of autonomy is seen in Holand where many people now carry anti-euthanasia passports due to fear of being killed if admitted to hospital.6 As mentioned above proper government funded hospice care for those in need can help mitigate the burden felt by families and with only voluntary euthanasia legalised the loss of autonomy would be mitigated in Australia.

Final Thoughts 

When deciding to legalise euthanasia the Australian government must consider international guidelines as well as the potential consequences seen in other countries when euthanasia is not properly regulated. Currently suicide and attempted suicide are not a crime however assisting in one is. As a result people have sought to find loopholes such as Max Dog Brewing to end their suffering. Euthanasia offers a choice other then suicide when palliative care fails and needs are impossible to meet.

We especially love Nitrogen-fueled beer, that gives an extra special creamy head, just like Guinness.  Serve an IPA via Nitrogen & you have heaven in a glass. ~ Max Dog Brewing

Resources 

1. Australian Human Rights Commission. Human Rights and Euthanasia [Internet]. Australian Human Rights Commission; 1996 [cited 2015 Apr 4]. Available from:  https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/rights-and-freedoms/projects/human-rights-and-euthanasia

2. United Nations Human Rights. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [Internet]. United Nations Human Rights; 1966 [cited 2015 Apr 4]. Available from: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx

3.  Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, Australian Government; 1997 [cited 2015 Apr 4]. Available from: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2004A05118

4. Riaz Hassan. Social Factors in Suicide in Australia. In: Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology; 1996.

5.  Youtube. Death in a Can: Australia’s Euthanasia Loophole – VICE INTL (Australia) [Internet]. Vice; 2015 [cited 2015 Apr 4]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-nTAU3vXzQ

6. Life. The Impact of Euthanasia on Society [Internet].  New Zealand: Life. [cited 2015 Apr 4]. Available from: http://www.life.org.nz/euthanasia/euthanasiakeyissues/impact-on-society/

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