The Fight to Legalise Euthanasia in Australia Essay
The Fight to Legalise Euthanasia in Australia Euthanasia is defined by the Oxford Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2013) as “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma. ” The word euthanasia originates from the Greek words, “eu” meaning good, and “thantos” meaning death, however the topic of this type of “good death” has become highly debatable in Australia.
Sometimes referred to as “assisted suicide” and “mercy killing,” euthanasia gives people their own right to die through painless suicide, however done so at their own free will, making it voluntary. Once legalised in the Northern Territory for nine months under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, euthanasia is now illegal in all states and territories in Australia. Being legal in certain countries of the world, such as Belgium, Switzerland and notably the Netherlands, Australia is yet to re-authorise euthanasia laws.
With surveys conducted showing a high level of support throughout the country on this highly debatable topic, it is now time for the Federal Government of Australia and all State Parliament’s to overturn its current restrictions on voluntary euthanasia, giving the terminally ill and the terminally impaired their own right to die. In Australia, the matter of euthanasia is a matter that is held by State Parliaments in Australia, meaning that law dealing with the legality of euthanasia varies state to state.
However, unlike the states of Australia, the territories being the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory must abide by laws made by the Federal Parliament of Australia as legalisation in Australian territories is not guaranteed by the Australian constitution. Accordingly, in Australia the Federal Parliament and all State Parliaments have nullified euthanasia, making it illegal.
In Queensland, it is found that if a person assists in the euthanasia of another by hastening the death of a person that has already found to be disordered or have a disease, then it will be dealt with by the Supreme Court under section 296 of Queensland’s Criminal Code (s296 Code) making it homicide. In other states such as New South Wales, any person that assists in the act of euthanasia could be convicted of murder and is liable to life imprisonment (S 19A of the Crimes Act 1900, NSW. However, with euthanasia being illegal, there are some alternative end-of-life laws which exist to the terminally ill. Currently with euthanasia being illegal in Australia, the only end-of-life laws which exist are known as Advanced Medical Directives (AMD). An Advanced Medical Directive is a legal document that is signed by a terminally ill patient for their right to refuse medical treatment and/or assistance. An AMD document, once signed, will continue into situations in which a person may become unconscious or demented.
An AMD document usually consists of a list of various treatments a person finds unacceptable to them. Although in Australia an AMD can be made by any Australian citizen meeting the requirement of 18 years of age and sound at mind, the legal status of an AMD document varies from state to state. In 1998, Queensland passed the Powers of Attorney Act (QLD), permitting the legality of an AMD; however amendments passed in 2001 allow proxies or agents to consent to the withdrawal and/or withholding of medical treatment if a doctor considers these treatment attempts to be futile.
In regards to the Northern Territory and South Australia, AMD’s are only legally recognised by terminally ill patients that meet the Australian legal requirements to make a valid AMD (18 years of age and sound at mind. ) All other states in Australia, excluding New South Wales have legally recognised an AMD and/or Enduring Power Attorney to make decisions if a patient is incapable of doing so, e. g. to refuse medical treatment. In NSW, the legality of an AMD document is still to be recognised, however an Enduring Guardian to make lifestyle decisions.
Yet even with these “alternative” options available to the terminally ill, euthanasia is a topic in which Australian law will have to conflict in short time, with organisations and society groups highly supporting and involved in the fight to legalise euthanasia in Australia. Dying with Dignity, the Western Australia Voluntary Euthanasia Society (WAVES), the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Queensland and Exit International are some of Australia’s best known euthanasia supportive organisations. Exit International, in particular, was founded by Dr Phillip Nitschke.
Dr Nitschke is an Australian medical doctor, and was the first person to aid a patient with assisted suicide in the world, via a lethal injection from a machine he had invented himself. Being successful with originally beginning the campaign to legalise euthanasia in the Northern Territory, Dr Nitschke founded Exit International in 1997, after the overturning of the world’s first assisted suicide law, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, by the Australian Federal Parliament. Dr Nitschke is credited with two published books under his name, and is a highly influential world activist on the legalisation of euthanasia.
Although organisations and highly renowned euthanasia activists do exist in Australia, there is no government based organisation, however certain politicians and medical professionals such as Dr Rosemary Jones have joined society based euthanasia groups and believe “We are not practitioners of assistive dying. All we are interested in is influencing events to bring about the legalisation of euthanasia” (Dr Rosemary Jones – the Australian Agenda Magazine 7/03/13), Jones has also stated that “I don’t believe that voluntary euthanasia ‘may’ one day be legalised.
It’s just a question of ‘when,” (Dr Rosemary Jones – the Australian Agenda Magazine 7/03/13). Yet it is not only the high levels of support that euthanasia legalisation has received but also the humane morals in which make euthanasia an appropriate last resort for the terminally ill or impaired. In February 2013, Heinz Klinkermann, a 73 year old man of Yandoit, Victoria, has become Australia’s newest assisted suicide aiding criminal. He has been convicted by the Australian law under her majesty, Queen Elizabeth, with one count of attempted murder, after failing to euthanize his 85 year old wife, Beryl Klinkermann.
Beryl is a sufferer of dementia and Parkinson’s, with difficulty swallowing, and at times being unresponsive; it was in her own best wishes that she wanted aid with her own suicide. It was proven that Heinz Klinkermann had used the toxic carbon monoxide fumes from his car exhaust to fill a room, in which he and his wife had taken sleeping tablets in hope to pass out and die together. With this being a choice that Mr and Mrs Klinkermann had made together, the peaceful care Mr Klinkermann had shown towards his wife and her wishes in supporting her assisted suicide has left the 73 year old man found guilty of attempted murder.
From this, he was given an 18 month supervised community corrections order. With having near-walked-off a free man from the original attempted murder charge, it is notable that the law does somewhat go easy on cases in regards to voluntary assisted suicide. (The Queen v Klinkermann  VSC 65 (25 February 2013)). With acknowledging the certain charges that euthanasia “criminals” are charged with, it is notable to distinguish on how reluctant Australian court and law are to punish this type of “criminal. In 2005, Catherine Anne Pryor, a Tasmanian nurse was charged with manslaughter of her terminally ill father, and the attempted murder of her mother, whom was in the early stages of dementia. On December 19, 2005, Mrs Pryor pleaded guilty, and was sentenced by Acting Justice Hill at the Supreme Court of Tasmania. She was charged with manslaughter and attempted murder, yet was only sentenced a wholly-suspended jail sentence of two-and-a-half years for both crimes.
According to the local Tasmania newspaper, The Mercury, reported that the reason for Justice Hill’s decision was that, “he did not think the community would want her to go to jail. ” (The Mercury, 20-12-2005, Ed: 1 -, Pg: 001. ) In accordance to all other criminals charged with homicide (which includes the various degrees of it, being murder and manslaughter), studies by the Australian Bureau of Statistics have shown that criminals convicted of homicide serve an average jail time of 11 years (134 months).
So why is that people found guilty of euthanasia are let off so easily by Australian law? Dr. Phillip Nitschke has stated his belief on the Pryor Case with three comments on the Australian law regarding his sympathy for convicted euthanasia criminals: 1. “To simply leave the laws in their uncertain state, knowing that out of that uncertainty [will] come fear, and compliance I think is unconscionable and that’s exactly what the Government has done, they won’t clarify the existing laws. ” 2. “They leave people uncertain often about whether what they’ve done is a crime or not. ” 3. They’re often motivated by the finest of human motives, compassion and love, and for that they find themselves in one of these nightmare legal scenarios. ” (Dr P. Nitschke, ABC News, 20/12/05, “Assisted suicide case calls for euthanasia law review. ”) So the question remains that, had Catherine Pryor really committed a crime? Helen Cutts from the state’s Voluntary Euthanasia Society has answered that question, stating that, “She has been actually convicted purely because of her great love and compassion for her parents. ” (Helen Cutts, ABC News, 20/12/05, “Assisted suicide calls for euthanasia law review. ”).
Remarkably with the law being so reluctant to punish those responsible at hand for helping with the assisted voluntary suicide of another, both levels of Australian parliament are yet to overturn its current jurisdictions on voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill and impaired. Those involved in the euthanasia of their loved ones are walking away free, wasting the time of Australian courts. By legalising euthanasia, Australian courts will no longer have to deal with the issue of people carrying out a loved one’s final wish, and will be giving the terminally ill and impaired the choice to die with dignity.
In other countries where euthanasia is legalised such as the Netherlands, “assisted suicide clinics” offer voluntary euthanasia services to those that wish to welcome their own death. These clinics operate all year round, and although most visitors to these clinics are tourists or optimists that are interested in assisted suicide. Statistics in recent media have stated that voluntary euthanasia has increased by 18% with over 3600 reported cases having been conducted in assisted suicide clinics (LifeSiteNews – “Euthanasia is Out of Control in the Netherlands,” Alex Schadenberg. Of these people thousands of people that travel to countries in which assisted suicide clinics are operational, as of 2012, twelve were Australian citizens (Herald Sun – “Swiss Clinic the Final Destination for Sick Australians who Aim to End it All,” Brigid O’Connell). They were twelve Australian citizens that should have been allowed the right to die on their own shore, with their loved ones by their sides. In Australia, the first person to have their wish to die granted by voluntary euthanasia was Mr Bob Dent. Dying on September 22, 1996 with the help of Dr Nitschke, Dent had been suffering terminal prostate cancer.
Before his death, Mr Dent composed a letter in which he stated, “If I were to keep an animal in the same condition I am in, I would be prosecuted. If you disagree with voluntary euthanasia, then don’t use it, but don’t deny the right to me to use it. ” With Australian courts showing mercy on people convicted with aiding with assisted suicide, and polls showing that over half of Australians agree with the legalisation of euthanasia, it is time for the Federal and State Parliaments to lift their restrictions on voluntary euthanasia.
It is time for the legalisation of a terminally ill or impaired patient’s final wish of using voluntary euthanasia to die a peaceful death, and die with dignity. After all, “since suicide isn’t against the law, why should it be illegal to help someone commit suicide? ” Bibliography 1. Euthanasia laws in Australia. 2013. Euthanasia laws in Australia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www. exitinternational. net/page/Australia. [Accessed 21 July 2013]. 2. Euthanasia: definition of euthanasia in Oxford dictionary (British & World English). 2013.
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