‘Euthanasia’ is derived from two Greek words which translate to ‘a good or easy death.’ (Tarakson, 2008 p. 6). Active Voluntary Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of a human being by a direct action such as a lethal injection to end or to relieve persistent suffering. Voluntary Euthanasia is currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the states of Oregon and Washington in the U.S. (Timothy J. Legg, 2017) It currently is not legal in Australia except in the Northern Territory under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT). Although recently a Euthanasia bill was passed in Victoria legalising Voluntary Euthanasia at the end of 2017 and now will soon become law. (Heraldsun.com.au, 2018) It is highly likely that NSW and other states in Australia will be affected by Victoria’s decision. Euthanasia is a very topical debate with strong points on both sides of the argument but what are Australian attitudes to Euthanasia? Is it ethical?
As technology is developing the population is steadily ageing, people are living longer and fewer babies are being born. ‘The male and female combined life expectancy in 2014-2016 for Australia was 82.5 years. This was 11.7 years higher than the corresponding latest available world average of 70.8 years in 2010-2015.’ (Abs.gov.au, 2018) Australian birthrates reached a peak in 1961 when there were 3.6 then decreased dramatically in 2005 to 1.81 and now 1.75 in 2016. (Abs.gov.au, 2018) The practice of Euthanasia is an issue that arises with the longer lifespan of humans and more people suffering from diseases in old age. (Tarakson, 2008 p. 4) Most people will have an opinion for or against assisted suicide without being educated on the subject. (Sikora and Lewins, 2007) Euthanasia can be classified into two categories; Voluntary meaning the process is conducted with consent where the patient is fully aware and conscious and Non-Voluntary which means it is conducted without consent where another person will make the decision for the patient as they are unable to do so. (Timothy J. Legg, 2017) These situations most likely involve newborn babies with serious medical conditions or someone who is experiencing severe dementia and unconscious patients. The Non-voluntary situation is more where ethical problems arise from. (Sikora and Lewins, 2007) There are also two procedural classifications of Euthanasia, passive and active. Passive is when treatments to maintain the patient’s life are withheld or if a patient overdose’s on doctor prescribed painkilling drugs. Active euthanasia is when a doctor uses lethal substances or forces to end a patient’s life. (Timothy J. Legg, 2017) The difference between active and passive euthanasia is often reduced to a difference between ‘killing’ and ‘letting die’, sparking religious and ethical arguments. (Sikora and Lewins, 2007) However, my topic is based on Active Voluntary Euthanasia.
Joanna Sikora & Frank Lewins state in their article ‘Attitudes concerning euthanasia: Australia at the turn of the 21st Century’ that ‘different people’s opinions and views are salient in policy development in Western industrialised countries’ (Sikora and Lewins, 2007) Therefore it is important to consider public opinion on the Euthanasia debate. There are three dominant perspectives on why individuals hold particular attitudes towards pro euthanasia decisions, stated in the Sikora & Lewins article. The ‘Utilitarianism or Consequentialism’ view the ‘Christian doctrine’ view and the ‘Individualism based on deductive and rational principles’ view. (Sikora and Lewins, 2007) The article presents these three views and their support for different types of euthanasia; “The terminally ill, the elderly, young disabled adult and young incurable ill adult in pain”. The Utilitarianism or Consequentialism view approved all four situations with the main argument that “Approve only if the wish is sound or that it will reduce prolonged pointless suffering and if there is little chance of better integration into the community.” The Christian Doctrine view rejected all four under the principle that “Humans have no autonomy to decide their own lives.” The Individualism based on deductive and rational principles’ view approved all four situations if “it is an independent and rational choice.” This presents three main arguments pro Euthanasia of ‘mercy killing/compassion’ and ‘the right to choose/ autonomous decision’ and ‘to die with dignity.’ The main argument against euthanasia is religious beliefs.
Stella Tarakson’s book ‘World issues come to Australia: Euthanasia’ discusses arguments for and against Euthanasia. The main differing argument presented for euthanasia was “The euthanasia underworld.” (Tarakson, 2008 p. 28) Where Tarakson’s states that Pro-euthanasia advocates claim that despite being illegal, voluntary euthanasia still occurs. Where Doctors, nurses or friends and relatives of the terminally ill carry out voluntary euthanasia. Dr. Jack Kervorkian, a retired pathologist openly admitted to having assisted at least 130 people to take their lives. His aim was to cause a change in the law. (Tarakson, 2008 p. 28) Tarakson’s also brings up liable arguments against euthanasia besides religious views. Such as the chance of medical error or possibility of a cure, as a patient might have been misdiagnosed, or recover unexpectedly, there is also the prospects of medical advancements in the near future. She also brings up the point that a patient might feel pressured into thinking they have “a duty to die” where the individual may feel as a burden even if the family is not directly putting pressure. The patient might feel guilty and “the right to die may become a moral duty to die.” (Tarakson, 2008 p. 39)
Euthanasia either voluntary, non-voluntary sparks controversy in the public. It is important to (haven’t finished conclusion)
In-text: (Sikora and Lewins, 2007)
Sikora, J. and Lewins, F. (2007). Attitudes concerning euthanasia: Australia at the turn of the 21stCentury. Health Sociology Review, 16(1), pp.68-78.
In-text: (Tarakson, 2008)
Tarakson, S. (2008). Euthanasia. Port Melbourne, Vic.: Heinemann Library.
In-text: (Timothy J. Legg, 2017)
Timothy J. Legg, C. (2017). Euthanasia and assisted suicide: What are they and what do they mean?. online Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182951.php?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Medical_News_Today_TrendMD_1 Accessed 27 Jan. 2018.
In-text: (Heraldsun.com.au, 2018)
Heraldsun.com.au. (2018). Euthanasia Bill passes Vic parliament. online Available at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/euthanasia-bill-voluntary-assisted-dying-passes-victorian-parliament/news-story/bc69cfc9d0884fa9f28bec47dadfe089?nk=de63dc4bc79b2c3409b24543f9950328-1517033297 Accessed 27 Jan. 2018.
In-text: (Abs.gov.au, 2018)
Abs.gov.au. (2018). 3302.0.55.001 – Life Tables, States, Territories and Australia, 2014-2016. online Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Latestproducts/3302.0.55.001Main%20Features22014-2016?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3302.0.55.001&issue=2014-2016&num=&view= Accessed 27 Jan. 2018.