Right to die should be my own

or Euthanasia, religious politicians and a poor moral compass

By David Swanton

Posted Monday, 31 January 2011 in the Canberra Times, p. 9


Senator Bob Brown’s Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 will be debated soon in the federal parliament. If passed, the Bill will repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which removed the right of the Territories to legislate for euthanasia. It will not legalise euthanasia. However, because some politicians have already indicated they might reject Senator Brown’s Bill because of its euthanasia association, their views require analysis.

Most opposition to the Bill comes from religious politicians, leaders, and others who oppose euthanasia. They claim that euthanasia is not voluntary, that people would be coerced into a decision, and that people would be killed without their consent. Euthanasia is defined as a deliberate act intended to cause the death of a patient, at that patient’s request, for what he or she sees as being in his/her best interests. Clearly, euthanasia’s voluntary nature is implicit in this definition, and this is recognised by the 80-85% of Australians who support it. It is precisely the voluntary nature of euthanasia that makes it ethically right. If it’s not voluntary, it would be illegal.

There are legislated means of ensuring euthanasia is voluntary, including having the patient examined by a number of doctors, including a psychiatrist. If an additional condition was required, terminally ill people could be required to place their names on a euthanasia register for six months before being permitted to request euthanasia.

Barack Obama, as a Senator, correctly recognised that governments must not legislate based on politicians’ religious beliefs. He said ‘Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.’

Many Australian politicians lack the ability of President Obama to separate their religious beliefs from their political responsibilities. They must understand that their religion is not amenable to reason and must not be forced on others.

Nonetheless, many religious politicians oppose euthanasia when even the majority of religious people accept that people should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions. It would seem logical that politicians should, on individual rights issues such as euthanasia, give individuals choice, because even politicians themselves demand an individual conscience vote on euthanasia issues in parliament.

The problem is that religious politicians who oppose euthanasia have views that are undemocratic, arrogant, hypocritical and wrong.

Their views are undemocratic because they want to deny people living in Territories the right to legislate for euthanasia if they so wish, when people in States have this power. They need to respect the equality of all Australians by not discriminating against people living in the Territories.

They are arrogant because they think they know what is better for other individuals than those individuals themselves.

They are hypocritical, because they would not want other people to impose other religious beliefs on them, but this is exactly what they are doing to other people. Religious politicians should follow their maxim of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

These politicians choose to follow a god that they believe has killed millions in a great flood and killed the first-born children in Egypt, to recall a couple of horrendous biblical crimes. That they choose to worship/idolise a god they believe is a murderer reflects their poor moral compass. Yet they want to deny individuals the right to choose euthanasia because killing is contrary to their moral values. Less-polite analysts than me would probably describe such hypocrites in more colourful terms.

If euthanasia were permitted, significant funds could be made available to rebuild infrastructure after Australia’s devastating floods and to provide additional care for those who want to stay alive for as long as possible. However, by opposing euthanasia, religious politicians are instead demanding that governments waste billions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars keeping alive terminally ill peoplewho do not wish to be kept alive. This is unwanted taxpayer-funded torture and a disgraceful use of public funds. Most terminally ill people might never request euthanasia, but if pain, indignity, and suffering were to make a person’s quality of life unacceptable (according to that person alone), that person should not be denied euthanasia as a last resort.

Unsurprisingly, many euthanasia supporters have little respect for the religious politicians who rule the roost. If Senator Brown’s Bill does not pass and the ACT Legislative Assembly continues to prohibit euthanasia, then there is a solution. Dr Philip Nitschke, through his organisation, Exit International, has empowered many Australians and people around the world with information (you can hear the religious politicians swearing ‘how dare he’) so that people can, and do, order their euthanasia drugs, as they have been doing for some years. Politicians can either vote for Senator Brown’s Bill, or bury their heads in the sand. If the latter, politicians will be ignoring the fact that most Australians want the option of euthanasia and many are doing something about it in the absence of real political leadership.


David Swanton is an ethicist, PhD scientist and director of Ethical Rights. He is also ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International.