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The sanctity of life: summary arguments opposing euthanasia.

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D e p a r t m e n t o f t h e P a r l i a m e n t a r y L i b r a r y




RESEARCH NOTE Number 13, November 1996-97 ISSN 1323-5664 The Sanctity of Life: Summary Arguments Opposing Euthanasia Introduction The passage of the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 and introduction of the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996 in the Australian Parliament has ignited an often vociferous debate in Australia about euthanasia. This Research Note outlines arguments used by opponents of euthanasia for the terminally ill. However, not all opponents would support all the arguments outlined below. It is strongly recommended that this Research Note be read in conjunction with its counterpart Research Note No. 12 1996-97, Choice, Quality of Life and Self-Control—Summary Arguments in Support of Euthanasia. Also recommended are Parliamentary Research Service Research Papers No's 3 and 4 1996-97, Euthanasia—the Australian Law in an International Context—Part 1: Passive Voluntary Euthanasia; Euthanasia—the Australian Law in an International Context—Part 2: Active Voluntary Euthanasia and the Bills Digest for the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996. Some Definitions The term 'euthanasia' means a quiet and easy death. The term is often divided into categories such as the following: • passive voluntary

euthanasia—where medical treatment is withdrawn or withheld from a patient at that patient's request and death results.

• active voluntary euthanasia— where medical intervention is sought by a patient in order to end their own life.

• passive involuntary

euthanasia—where medical treatment is withheld in order to cause death, but the

withholding of treatment is not at the patient's request.

• active involuntary

euthanasia—where medical intervention brings about a patient's death, and the

intervention is not at the

patient's request.

The Sanctity of Life

Christianity and many other doctrines/creeds hold that God is the creator of the universe and as such, all of creation, including human life, is a gift from God. Reverence for God's creation requires refraining from any unnecessary and wilful

destruction of that creation.

Euthanasia is the intentional and premature killing of a human being.

Human life is of such basic value that the state has a duty to protect it from intentional killing. The state has no moral right to

legalise active or passive

euthanasia as though it would affect only the individuals


Human Right

That the right to die is a human right is a fallacious argument. Opponents of euthanasia argue that a right to die in the

euthanasia context is a right to be killed. 'A right to be killed would infer that another person could respond to a request for induced death, so that it also necessarily supposes another right, the right of another person to kill when asked. Neither of these claims has ever been recognised in law or ethics, and neither is self-evident.' (B. Pollard, The Many Sides of Euthanasia, Quadrant, v. 35(12) Dec 1991: 44 and 45.)

Personal Autonomy

In a liberal democratic society people have the right to make choices in accordance with their own values. Liberal democratic societies recognise this fact by restricting a citizen's autonomy only when it is required for the common good or to protect

individuals from harm. The duty of the state to protect the life of

all its citizens justifies limiting citizens' autonomy.

The Slippery Slope

There are a number of difficulties with statutory recognition of voluntary euthanasia. The first is the potential for abuse/coercion of the frail and vulnerable, failure to abide by legal procedures and subtle pressures by family

members. The second, it is

argued, is an inevitable

progression to voluntary

euthanasia to those not suffering from a terminal illness, and from voluntary euthanasia to

involuntary euthanasia.

It is also argued that inevitable progression to acceptance of involuntary euthanasia might result from a general devaluing of human life. It might also occur as a result of the spiralling costs of health care and palliative care. Could euthanasia become a

tolerable substitute for proper health care?

In this view the case of the

Netherlands shows that

involuntary euthanasia inevitably follows from active voluntary euthanasia.

Palliative Care

Measures do exist to control adequately the pain and

symptoms suffered by the

overwhelming majority of

terminally ill patients and

maintain their quality of life. If a terminally ill patient is in distress then proper palliative care is not being provided.

Palliative care ensures that the dying are provided with:

• effective relief from physical pain;

• psychological support;

• effective communication so that the patient and family can understand what is happening, what treatments are available and their effects;

• incorporation of the

terminally ill patient's family in the care to the extent that the patient and the family wish and are capable of

fulfilling; and

• spiritual support to the extent that patient wishes.

Access to euthanasia may inhibit the development of good

palliative care services. Palliative care and the hospice movement are underdeveloped in the

Netherlands where euthanasia is openly practised.

Opinion Polls

Reliance is placed on public opinion by proponents of

euthanasia. It is argued that

opinion polls are subject to

manipulation, cannot provide quality information about

decision making for events which may occur in the future and

generally do not provide detailed questioning of respondents about all aspects euthanasia (eg. what should happen with severely impaired infants or legally

incompetent adults).

Ian Ireland Law and Public Administration Group Parliamentary Research Service

Phone: 06 2772438 Fax: 06 2772407

Views expressed in this Research Note are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Parliamentary Research Service and are not to be attributed to the

Department of the Parliamentary Library.Research Notes provide concise analytical briefings on

issues of interest to Senators and Members. As such they may not canvass all of the key issues.

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