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Do we have a right to assisted suicide?


Dr Philip Nitschke

Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia are back in the courts of Canada and the United Kingdom, and back in the parliaments of the United Kingdom and Australia. Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada finished hearing a case in which the applicants claim that a 1993 Supreme Court decision upholding the criminal ban on euthanasia should be overruled. On Friday, the House of Lords will resume debate on Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill

Their Lordships will be looking forward to what they think is the appropriate law and policy on assisted suicide, while looking back at a recent decision of the UK Supreme Court which has said there is a need to consider the European Convention on Human Rights’ requirement that everyone is entitled to respect for their private life. Next Monday, the Australian Senate will receive a committee report on the Greens’ appallingly drafted Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Exposure Draft Bill 2014.

A word about each development. No law is ever perfect. Any law can work an injustice in a particular case. That’s why we have prosecutors and courts which can exercise discretion. Wherever you draw the line in criminal law, there will always be just and compassionate exceptions you would want to see made on one side of the line, without always moving the line and starting the exercise again. Until 50 years ago, attempted suicide was a criminal offence. Seeing there were better ways to dissuade people from attempting suicide and acknowledging that no purpose was to be served by punishing someone who failed to kill themselves, parliaments abolished the offence of attempted suicide, while retaining the offence of assisting someone else with their own suicide. 

With developments in medical technology, patients could avail themselves of life sustaining procedures like respirators. Exercising their autonomy, patients were entitled to ask that the respirator be turned off. If death resulted, the doctor was not liable. In 1993, the Canadian Supreme Court said there was a world of difference between turning off life support at the request of a rational, competent, non-depressed patient and administering a lethal injection to such a patient. The first was allowed; the second was not.

The Canadian Supreme Court has now been asked to rule that the distinction between withdrawing life support and administering a lethal injection is ethically contested and contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees everyone the right to life and the right 'not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice'. The Charter also guarantees equality before the law without discrimination based on mental or physical disability. 

The argument runs like this. Since attempted suicide is no longer a criminal offence, everyone has the right to commit suicide. A person with a terminal illness and in great pain can decide to commit suicide whenever they wish. But if that person were suffering increasing disability, they would need to commit suicide earlier, while they are still able to perform the death-dealing act. If they were allowed to get assistance with someone else performing the death dealing act, they could decide to live longer, even as long as a person without disability, before then committing suicide with assistance. Unless they have the right to assisted suicide, they are being deprived their full right to life contrary to the principles of fundamental justice, and in a discriminatory way. So a law which bans the provision of assistance with suicide is said to be unconstitutional. 

The argument against this proposition is that the law banning such assistance can be 'demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society', being necessary to protect the vulnerable in society (whether abled or disabled) who may feel pressured into seeking such assistance or who may be tricked, cajoled or soothed into seeking such assistance in order to satisfy the needs and desires of others, including selfish relatives and overstretched medical personnel. 

There is no right to commit suicide with a correlative duty that the state support the person wanting to commit suicide. There is only a liberty to commit suicide with an immunity from state interference. It is likely that the fairly ‘liberal’ Canadian Supreme Court will recognise a constitutional right to commit suicide and cut back the outright legal prohibition on providing assistance with suicide.

Over in London, Lord Joffe has four times introduced bills to the House of Lords seeking some form of legalised assistance with dying. Each bill has failed. He has passed the baton to Lord Falconer, who is now making his second attempt with his Assisted Dying Bill. Lords Joffe and Falconer were amongst the 42 lords who debated the measure in July. When debate resumes on Friday, the lords will be considering a bill which restricts the assistance by a medical practitioner to preparing medicine for self-administration or preparing a device like one of Philip Nitschke’s machines for self-administration of the medicine. The bill specifies that 'the decision to self-administer the medicine and the final act of doing so must be taken by the person for whom the medicine has been prescribed'. 

In July, Lord Falconer told the House of Lords, 'I have built on the Oregon model, but with more safeguards. I reject the Belgian and Dutch approach.' He is anxious to avoid arguments about slippery slopes and developments in Belgium and the Netherlands where doctors have performed euthanasia on non-competent patients and on patients who are not suffering terminal illness. To get his bill through, Lord Falconer is even prepared to consider further safeguards. Looking to the UK Supreme Court’s recent decision, he has favourably quoted the Chief Justice Lord Neuberger who wrote:  

A system whereby a judge or other independent assessor is satisfied in advance that someone has a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed wish to die and for his suicide then to be organised in an open and professional way, would, at least in my current view, provide greater and more satisfactory protection for the weak and vulnerable, than a system which involves a lawyer from the DPP’s office inquiring, after the event, whether the person who had killed himself had such a wish, and also to investigate the actions and motives of any assister, who would, by definition, be emotionally involved and scarcely able to take, or even to have taken, an objective view. 

Lord Falconer has told the Lords: 'Some say that the courts should be involved as an additional safeguard before an assisted death occurs. We should constructively consider that issue in Committee.'

Meanwhile the Australian Senate is considering a much broader proposal than Lord Falconer’s bill. The Greens have formulated the fuzzy notion of a medical practitioner providing 'dying with dignity medical services' including the administration of a lethal substance to a patient at their request. Their bill, unlike the UK bill, would allow Philip Nitschke to administer the fatal injection. Their bill includes the form to be filled in by the patient seeking dying with dignity medical services. The form is so shoddily drafted that it does not even specify a request for any particular services. It is simply a blank cheque given to the doctor stating: 'I am satisfied that there is no medical treatment reasonably available that is acceptable to me in my circumstances.' 

The Bill provides: 'No civil, criminal or disciplinary action lies, and proceedings must not be brought, against a person in relation to an act done, or omitted to be done, if the act is done, or omitted to be done' in accordance with the proposed Commonwealth law. This is a constitutional nightmare and a federal mess-up of truly Green proportions. The criminal law in this area is a matter for the States. If you want certainty in the criminal law, which you do, you change the criminal law in question. You amend the State laws on assisted suicide. You do not have the Commonwealth coming in over the top to offer immunity from prosecution for an action which is still a criminal offence in the States. 

More problematic is the doubt about the constitutional power of the Commonwealth even to make such a law. It would be like the Commonwealth legislating a new criminal law in relation to abortion. It is a State issue, not a Commonwealth issue. The only time the Commonwealth bought into euthanasia was when the Commonwealth Parliament overrode a law of the Northern Territory. There has never been any suggestion that it would or could override a law of the States. The Greens have not helped anyone with this half-baked exercise. 

Lord Sumption stated the issues well in the UK Supreme Court: 

There is no complete solution to the problem of protecting vulnerable people against an over-ready resort to suicide…The real question about all of these possibilities is how much risk to the vulnerable are we prepared to accept in this area in order to facilitate suicide for the invulnerable…There is an important element of social policy and moral value-judgment involved. The relative importance of the right to commit suicide and the right of the vulnerable to be protected from overt or covert pressure to kill themselves is inevitably sensitive to a state’s most fundamental collective moral and social values.

Keeping an eye on developments in Canada and the UK, we Australians need to be clear about the social, philosophical, legal and constitutional issues involved when contemplating our own amendments to the law and practice of assisted suicide.

Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ, professor of law at Australian Catholic University, is presently Gasson professor at the Boston College Law School. He tweets at @Brenna1n

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, euthanasia, assisted suicide, Dr Philip Nitschke, Lord Falconer, ethics



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Existing comments

I know this is a very personal, sensitive and highly emotive issue and everyone has their own wounds and experiences of death - but in my experience of witnessing a parent die, the palliative care system/laws were aggressive enough with the use of high doses of morphine and the withdrawal of blood transfusions to constitute a form of euthanasia that I feel has already gone far enough.

AURELIUS | 04 November 2014  

Whilst I agree with much of the Greens' agenda in politics, this proposed Bill does look shoddy. Lord Sumption's words articulate the dilemma inherent in assisted suicide. High quality palliative care should be available as an alternative - however, especially in regional areas, access to palliative care is not always easy. In my district, patients and families need to travel over 80 km to access current facilities. For those suffering, and their relatives, Frank's final paragraph needs to be taken very seriously indeed.

Pam | 04 November 2014  

This is one of those issues which will simply not go away. The recent suicide in Oregon of Brittany Maynard which has been so widely publicised - especially the way it has been reported - would seem, on the surface, to give support to those in the Greens/Nitschske camp. Lord Falconer, as both a Scot and a lawyer, is taking a much, much, more cautious approach. He is to be applauded. I don't think, long term, you can prevent people like Brittany Maynard, in a situation like hers, taking her own life. You may not approve on religious or philosophical grounds but I think the "progressive" tide is against you. (The "you" I am talking about is hypothetical, and even so, in practical terms, it would include me.) As with abortion, I think you have to be psychologically able to admit that this is the way things are going. The Greens proposed Bill is bad and needs to be stopped. Watching what happens in Britain may be a clue as how legislation could work here. It is one of these situations where you need to look to the protection of those who need it. That is where the real battle is.

Edward Fido | 04 November 2014  

'There is no right to commit suicide with a correlative duty that the state support the person wanting to commit suicide. There is only a liberty to commit suicide with an immunity from state interference'. Thank you for the clarity of this statement, Frank. Most of the discussion seems to hinge on the idea that suicide is a 'right' and therefore the state must assist in preserving this right. It isn't, and they mustn't.

Joan Seymour | 04 November 2014  

It is worth noting the DPP's evidence in the UK that there has been only one prosecution since the publication of the 2010 prosecution guidelines “and that was a successful prosecution of someone who provided petrol and a lighter to a vulnerable man known to have suicidal intent, and who subsequently suffered severe burns as a result”. Between 1998 and 2011, 215 people from the UK used the services of Dignitas in Switzerland. Nobody providing assistance was prosecuted.

Frank Brennan SJ | 04 November 2014  

One of the problems not addressed is here is that doctors do not allow people to die a natural death. That, sadly, statement of wishes re end of life and refusal of medical treatment forms do not protect one from unwanted, excessive treatment that clearly prolongs suffering in a person with terminal illness. This has happened to me and then having been recovered by doctors (i.e. still breathing) one is discharged to what? To cope how? Hence if the medical profession will not let a person die naturally then a person is forced to turn to the at least think about euthanasia. It is a myth that all pain can be relieved, or that doctors will even try. I have been informed by more specialists than I can count that pain management is not something they do. And palliative care, if you do not have cancer and cannot promise to be dead in three months, is denied in clear contradiction to the WHO organisations guidelines. People are left terminally ill, suffering, distressed. There is no clear thinking about death / dying. Those with advanced dementia have pacemakers put in. Why? What is a good death? That is the question. Concerned

Christine Hamann | 05 November 2014  

Two notes: first, it is always a pleasure and an education to read Frank Brennan's clear mind at play; and second, Edward Fido's point is well-taken. With assisted suicide, or planned suicide, or state-approved suicide, whatever you wish to call it, as with abortion, one must admit that many people see nothing wrong with it; but i find myself ever more interested in trying to find words that remain clear and blunt for what actiually happens. With suicide, a murder occurs, no matter what the gloss; and we approve murder in all sorts of ways, from wars to executing prisoners. Similarly abortion; to me there someone is murdered, no matter how much we dicker about the 'personhood' of the person. Yet we murder all sorts of innoent beings. At least let us use real words for what is happening, so that we can perhaps inch along to the next part of the discussion, which ought to be 'are there really times when murder is fine, or not?'

Brian Doyle | 05 November 2014  

I present the view of, I believe, all mothers who have lost a child by suicide. Anne suffered intractable schizophrenia which gradually displaced her talent, her creativity, her friends, her love of, hold on life. After her second attempt to die by suicide she knew I would help her if she reached such despair again. "No mum, they'd get you for murder." Three years later she died alone, at midnight, with her head on a railway track. She died as so many severely mentally ill do, always violently, to ensure death, always, always alone. by necessity. Governments and professional bodies such as the RANZCP deny and refuse to assume their responsibility to change, improve, the lives and laws which lead to these tragic deaths. It is disheartening this interesting article retains and repeats the phrase "commits suicide". We are trying to remove the stigma which 'commit' still retains since it is so commonly used to refer to sins and crimes. 'Died by suicide'...it is enough.

Caroline Storm | 05 November 2014  

After 45 years practising Medicine I find it remarkable that I was never once asked by a patient to help him/her die. I was asked to dispatch a sick relative, however, by resoundingly healthy relatives who found the dying process more distressing to themselves than did the patient. I often wonder what the motivation for the euthanasists really is.

john frawley | 05 November 2014  

I always value and reflect on Frank Brennan's clearly expressed and intelligent analyses. These are some of my reflections.

Euthanasia/assisted suicide is a fraught topic because it sits at the crossroads of many human values which can be contradictory.

Any legalisation of euthanasia or assisted suicide would, of necessity, exclude those people who are deemed not to have the ability to make a rational choice, It would therefore seem to be discriminatory and to lack compassion. Then, as Frank Brennan points out, euthanasia could be seem as an easier path for busy doctors and some relatives.

For many, however, the notion of 'dying with dignity' can be attractive especially in today's society in which the competent individual is supremely valued. The idea of being dependent on others for our basic needs can seem shameful and unnecessary.

I am left wondering whether the interest in any form of legalisation springs from a genuine concern for the common good or from self-interest.

Perhaps, for many, it would be enough if everyone could be assured that, when they are dying, their pain and distress will be managed in a supportive and caring environment. This is by no means always the case.

Anna | 05 November 2014  

Do we have the right to not assist suicide!

Sanna | 05 November 2014  

Caroline your story touched my heart, my sympathy for your tragic loss of Anne; after 43 years our family members are still affected by the actions of a brother who died in the same manner as your daughter. The anniversary was last week and all we have now is sadness and unanswered questions as to what happened to cause a young person to become so desperate, isolated and alone. Life is a gift that can never be fully understood by the rational mind alone therefore it is never correct to pass laws that allow justified murder (as in war or execution), or assisted euthanasia. However the opposite of death is not life; rather the opposite of death is birth! Christians believe that life is continuous from the time of conception and because human life is a divine gift, that life is continuous beyond death into eternity. It seems that the Law is made up of ‘words’ that represent an argument for or against the rationality concerned with how a person should die. Some people need to feel they must have the last say when it comes to their own death, fear of being in a hopeless situation is a subject that is too little understood (people who have been in a vegetative state can experience consciousness), so it seems unwise to make laws for humans who want ‘a right to die’ when we don’t yet have laws that adequately assist asylum seekers who want ‘the right to live.’

Trish Martin | 05 November 2014  

Father Brennan civil prosecution is a non issue compared with 'Final Judgment' re mortal sin against 5th commandment and assisted eschatological suicide of eternal hellfire [The latter, already populated by Nazi Tiergarten Euthanasia desk murderers with their signature 'gnadentod' [mercy killing'] and propaganda.

Father John George | 05 November 2014  

As a general principle, the intervention of the state in the private affairs of individuals should be very strictly limited. No circumstances except personal belief quarantine the issue of suicide from this sensible provision. And since death is the inevitable conclusion to every life, and the palliative effects of modern medical science can be made readily available even outside a hospital or hospice, we should be prepared to accept that in certain circumstances, especially in painful terminal illness, people may wish to end their life and should not be prevented by circumstances or the law from doing so. As Frank Brennan points out, the Commonwealth has limited jurisdiction: it was able to act in the Northern Territory only because the NT is not a sovereign State. We have some way to go in Australia before we can reasonable reach a compact on this issue. As usual, as is also noted, the Greens are not being helpful with their draft Bill.

Richard Laidlaw | 05 November 2014  

Vatican on recent suicide

Father John George | 05 November 2014  

Father John George - I had stayed away from mentioning Brittany Maynard in my post, since the circumstances are particularly tragic and very recent. But she did die with dignity, in full control of her life (which she was ending). Plainly there are ethical and religious elements to the debate on suicide (which should certainly not be overlooked) but in this instance the advice from the Vatican was not helpful. Catholics may (perhaps should) adhere to dogma as interpreted by their church leaders. No one else faces that imperative.

Richard Laidlaw | 05 November 2014  

I take Brian Doyle's point on abortion. One of the problems with bringing Catholic morality into everyday discourse in Australia, traditionally a very lax place as far as religious attendance and membership goes, is that you have to talk the language of people in the street, who are, to use that ghastly word, "unchurched". They have also, traditionally been anti-Catholic to a degree (it's a hangover from the Catholic/Protestant days of antipathy). One of the interesting things many Catholics find is that there is strong support in the mainstream community (Catholics a large minority but still minority) for their stance on several issues including abortion and voluntary suicide/euthanasia but on moral reasoning which may reach the same point but be dissimilar to theirs. Using "middle" language like "abortion" rather than that dreadful euphemism "voluntary termination" or the rather blunt "murder" (I would consider many abortions manslaughter or wilful homicide because I think the clear intention to sin/murder may not be there and that needs clarification) may be a positive way of engaging with what is often seen as "the opposition". I think the role of the Church is to call sinners to repentance, and, these days, that needs extreme care. Likewise, while I appreciate Fr. John George once again clearly directing us to Church teaching on the subject, I think, in the general arena, you need to approach what are actually hot political issues in a way the average punter understands.

Edward Fido | 05 November 2014  

A real thought provoking article, thank you Fr. Brennan. There seems to be a break through in the proposal of giving some kind of authority to a legal court in matters of assisting a person's "good death" pledge. Though, I am not sure how much authority should be held by the judge and juries. Ms. Caroline Storms' experience is the "reality" that has to be considered fully in this debate. Still, the question is: Could the states' and legal courts' authority in terms of suicide pledge or assisting it be justified theologically?

Aldi | 05 November 2014  

On the right-liberty distinction, there are some useful observations in the unanimous judgment of the 2013 Irish Supreme Court decision Fleming v Ireland: “A right which extends to the termination of life must, as counsel for the appellant recognised in closing submissions, necessarily extend to a right to have life terminated by a third party in a case of total incapacity. The concept of autonomy which extends not just to an entitlement, but to a positive right to terminate life and to have assistance in so doing, would necessarily imply a very extensive area of decision in relation to activity which is put, at least prima facie, beyond regulation by the State . When it is considered that recognition of such a right implies correlative duties on the State and others to defend and vindicate that right (and which must necessarily restrict those parties’ freedom of action), it is apparent that the right contended for by the appellant would sweep very far indeed. It cannot properly be said that such an extensive right or rights is fundamental to the personal standing of the individual in question in the context of the social order envisaged by the Constitution. The right to life which the State is obliged to vindicate, is a right which implies that a citizen is living as a vital human component in the social, political and moral order posited by the Constitution. While it may be said that it is of the essence of certain types of rights, such as that of the right to associate, that they logically apply as a corollary a right to dissociate, that reasoning cannot be applied to all rights guaranteed by the Constitution. In particular the protection of the right to life cannot necessarily or logically entail a right, which the State must also respect and vindicate, to terminate that life or have it terminated. In the social order contemplated by the Constitution, and the values reflected in it, that would be the antithesis of the right rather than the logical consequence of it. Thus, insofar as the Constitution, in the rights it guarantees, embodies the values of autonomy and dignity and more importantly the rights in which they find expression, do not extend to a right of assisted suicide. Accordingly the Court concludes that there is no constitutional right which the State, including the courts, must protect and vindicate, either to commit suicide, or to arrange for the termination of one’s life at a time of one’s choosing.”

Frank Brennan SJ | 06 November 2014  

If the God that we as Catholic Christians believe in does exist, then the answer to your title question, Fr Frank, is not to be found in the law but in the fact that God alone has dominion over all human life. Surely? Our role is simply to relieve pain and suffering as best we can and not to accede to the demands or wishes of those who find human suffering unpleasant and something that they themselves personally fear and hope to avoid by covering the possibility of their future suffering by urging a law which allows them to be put down like a soul-less, injured racehorse..

john frawley | 06 November 2014  

I think Brian Doyle is wrong about words - suicide is not murder, two different words we use for two different things. We may not have a right to be euthanased but we do have a right not to have to suffer unnecessarily. The assistance I would like would, if I am in circumstances in which I no longer want to live, and after a proper process, be able to be precribed a pill, and go to a pleasant place, perhaps a hospice, where I could take the pill.

Russell | 06 November 2014  

I simply ask has medicine and palliative care regressed since the 1950s. In those turbulent days Dr. J. G. Hunter, Secretary of the British Medical Association in Australia, said on this subject: "Disease presumed to be incurable does not necessarily mean excruciating pain. The medical profession has many means of relieving pain; and it condemns euthanasia in any form. The World Medical Association's Council rejected it unreservedly at a meeting in Denmark " Also, in May, 1950, the Medical Society of New York protested against any attempts to legalize euthanasia.

Father John George | 06 November 2014  

The 2013 decision in Fleming v Ireland you quote, Frank, is an interesting one. I believe courts, to some extent, embody and express community standards. I think, in that case, they got it right. In Britain I think the legal and moral situation would be different (the UK not having a written constitution for one thing). Given our demographic makeup I think we would follow the UK. I think there are three important elements in this issue: (1) Those who say that want the right to commit voluntary suicide/be euthanized (2) Certain (mainly) religious groups, including, but not solely, the Catholic Church, which are against it (3) The Law, which is evolving. (1) and (2) are not going to agree. I think those supporting (1) will have the numbers and influence to push voluntary euthanasia through politically. Given this is likely, my main concerns would be: (a) To ensure involuntary euthanasia does not get pushed through as part of a "package" (b) That all those in the medical field, including those who work in public hospitals, who do not wish to assist with voluntary suicide, are neither forced to do so nor penalized for their stance.

Edward Fido | 07 November 2014  

From a mother in a similar situation, I thank Caroline Storm for the phrase "died by suicide" instead of "committed suicide" - as for myself, my nightmare is Philip Nitschke's face peering down at me as I suffer during my dying process.

Pat | 07 November 2014  

"The medical profession ... condemns euthanasia in any form." No, it doesn't really. The doctor who asked me if I would like my mother to have 'terminal sedation' was doing what many, many doctors do. It took 9 days of depriving her of water and food for her to die, but I was certain that's what she would have wanted - she'd said so often enough over the years. But she was 3 months in hospital dying and why shouldn't she have had the option of going sooner, after 90 years, if that's what she wanted?

Russell | 07 November 2014  

"in May, 1950, the Medical Society of New York protested against any attempts to legalize euthanasia". Here's something a couple of generations more up-to-date: in the latest issue of Medical Forum, a magazine for the W.A. medical profession, the editor mentions a survey they did in April 2013 "...41% said that if legislation on voluntary euthanasia (with suitable safeguards) was introduced into WA it would be supported by the medical profession (38% said it wouldn't). I think we can see the way things are going.

Russell | 07 November 2014  

Debate has resumed in the House of Lords today with 175 amendments being tabled to Lord Falconer's bill.

Frank Brennan SJ | 07 November 2014  

The reality of dying / death is not faced by using terms such as murder or suicide. The end of a terminal illness is death. It is natural but do we allow the natural progress of the illness? When and how should we interfere?Medical treatments can prolong life or rather the dying process. Current medicine cannot necessarily relieve the suffering this involves for the person or their family. Many medical treatments make the old ones such a cupping and bleeding comparatively merciful. The question then arises: if modern medicine does not allow us to die, will we have to make a choice about our own death? Jennifer Worth makes this point in her book, In the Midst of Life. Catholic teaching allows us to say no to extreme measures. But how to define what extreme measures now means is becoming increasingly difficult. How do we ensure one's last wishes are respected by doctors? As I said before, what is a good death?. How do we allow people to die well? How do we care for them during the dying process? If care, compassion, respect, pain relief were given ungrudgingly then people may not wish /need to choose euthanasia.

Christine Hamann | 07 November 2014  

This is a fascinating thread about words. Notes: isn't suicide murder, if murder is defined as the premeditated killing of a being? I say this without agenda; I just wrote an essay about how I can understand the urge all too well, under terrible duress, if you are sure you will never ever heal or escape the terrible prison of unbearable pain; and I watched poor Ms Maynard's days end right here in my city. Similarly abortion; without any agenda, I am interested in real words for a premeditated death; euphemism so easily is disguise and distance...

Brian Doyle | 08 November 2014  

Brian - I don't think your definition is correct - murder may or may not be pre-meditated, but it always involves malice or anger: bad intentions. A very old, failing in health, person who wants to take their own life is not murdering themselves. I would be very surprised if women who have abortions have any ill feelings towards the foetus. Most people are fairly clear about the differences when they use words like suicide, murder, abortion.

Russell | 10 November 2014  

Russell's post raises the question of hydration and nutrition for the dying patient vis a vis euthanasia.The CDF addressed such in detail "... The basic points are two. It is stated, first of all, that the provision of water and food, even by artificial means, is in principle an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life for patients in a “vegetative state”: “It is therefore obligatory, to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient”. It is made clear, secondly, that this ordinary means of sustaining life is to be provided also to those in a “permanent vegetative state”, since these are persons with their fundamental human dignity...." http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070801_nota-commento_en.html

Father John George | 10 November 2014  

Not sure suicide is a ''right''.What is the other side of the coin ''responsibility'' - of the individual or the state or even the doctor for that matter? I do agree that the matter must be thoroughly debated though as human beings seem to be becoming more of a ''commodity''/ or ''liability'' in our modern world. Difficult to come to a satisfactory conclusion for all religious or rational or spritual points of view. Great article

Michelle | 10 November 2014  

The Australian Senate committee has sensibly reported: 'Although the evidence received enabled the committee to consider some of the provisions of the Bill in detail, there remain some technical issues with a number of the provisions of the Bill. These include clarification of the definition of a dying with dignity service, clarification around the definition of a terminal illness, the number of medical practitioners required to consider the request, consistency of definition around decision-making capacity, and the serious consequences for medical practitioners who relied upon the immunities in the Bill if such immunities were later found to be unconstitutional. The committee notes conflicting evidence it received in relation to the primary constitutional basis for the Bill under paragraph 51(xxiiiA). The committee was told that there could be very serious consequences for medical practitioners who relied upon the immunities in the Bill, if such immunities were later found to be unconstitutional. This concern is enlivened by the virtual certainty that any federal legislation dealing with voluntary euthanasia will face constitutional challenge.' Their key Recommendation is 'that the proponent of the Exposure Draft of the Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Bill 2014 might address the technical and other issues raised in evidence to the committee and seek the advice of relevant experts before the Bill is taken further.'

Frank Brennan SJ | 10 November 2014  

Pope blasts euthanasia http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-blasts-abortion-euthanasia-as-sins-against-god-70913/ http://youtu.be/hPnlt7MsLMo

Father John George | 18 November 2014  

Caritas Australia on the dying-with-dignity hijack and blatant manipulation: "Overseas experience shows that where euthanasia legislation has been enacted, pressure has been applied to the frail aged, disabled and mentally ill to follow the now "normal" path of physician-assisted death. That path has little to do with dignity" Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-euthanasia-lobby-has-hijacked-the-phrase-dying-with-dignity-20141114-11mpcg.html#ixzz3JUPsT8WH

Father John George | 19 November 2014  

Be it noted, nobody is ever reduced to a vegetative state-turnip or bean[forget lachrymose poetics] Until soul departs a body[named metaphysical death versus clinical death] there is the engraced dignity of the human spiritual soul. [Manuals for confessors advise priests, absolution can be given a clinically dead person an hour or longer after clinical death. In any case, people have recovered from clinical death, some with NDE* *A near-death experience (NDE) refers to personal experiences associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light. These phenomena are usually reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead or has been very close to death. With recent developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of reported NDEs has increased. The experiences have been hypothesized in medical journals as having the characteristics of hallucinations, while parapsychologists and a number of scientists have pointed to them as evidence of an afterlife and mind-body dualism. According to the 2013 PLOS ONE article by Thonnard et al., "near-death experiences cannot be considered as imagined event memories. On the contrary, their physiological origins could lead them to be really perceived although not lived in the reality."[Be that as it may even vegetables have souls viz material principles of unity![pace spuds] till tossed in oven!

Father John George | 23 November 2014  

Me Fido 11/5 wamts focus on punters "in a way the average punter understands" ES is not limited to punters but the latter are well familar with nuances of euthanasing the odd nag ín situ on track or surgery[a veritable industry] http://www.horses-and-horse-information.com/articles/0198bye.shtml

Father John George | 24 November 2014  

I love the notion of "only a liberty to commit suicide with an immunity from state interference." Since a right has to enslave another to grant that right, the idea of liberty on open terms makes a lot of sense. Thank you for a beautifully thought out article.

Diane OFlaherty | 23 March 2015  

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  • Angela Owen
  • 07 November 2014

The media has reported that Swedish furniture company IKEA's Australian arm has earned an estimated $1 billion in profits since 2003, almost all of which has been exported tax-free. Action to crack down on tax avoidance is on the agenda of next week's G20 in Brisbane, but it remains to be seen if the interests of developing countries will be looked after.


The Australian Christian Lobby will not go away

  • John Warhurst
  • 04 November 2014

The ACL's recent national conference was held in Canberra and featured Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as keynote speaker. Appearances at the lobby's conferences have become something of a political rite of passage in recent years. Despite serious academic criticism from Professor Rodney Smith of the University of Sydney questioning its claims to political influence, it is now established in the top echelon of lobbying groups.