Medical ethicist calls on Senate to reject bill

Margaret Somerville (The Southern Cross)

An Australian medical ethicist has called on the Senate to reject a bill that would clear the way for assisted suicide to be legalised across Australia. Source: Canberra Times.

University of Notre Dame bioethics professor Margaret Somerville, who spent decades observing euthanasia in Canada, said the international experience demonstrated that euthanasia was being used as a cheaper alternative to psychiatric and palliative care.

“It’s a societal tragedy if we allow this,” she said.

The Senate will this week debate a private member’s bill brought by Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm, which would enable the ACT and Northern Territory to make their own laws on assisted suicide.

It comes after two children, aged nine and 11, were last week revealed as the world’s youngest to be euthanised in Belgium, the only country that allows minors who are terminally ill and in “unbearable suffering” to choose to die.

Victoria last year became the first Australian state to legalise assisted suicide, with Premier Daniel Andrews describing the passage of the reform as “a day of compassion”.

But Professor Somerville and nine of her international counterparts argue that voluntary assisted suicide has not achieved its aims of relieving pain and suffering, and is being misused.

In a paper published in the Journal of Palliative Care, the academics wrote that euthanasia should not be legal, and should never be performed by physicians in countries where it is permitted.

“It is not justifiable to allow physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia to grant the wishes of a few with difficult-to-relieve suffering at the expense of the rights and protections of others, especially vulnerable people who have no voice,” the paper said.

“Solutions for suffering lie in improving palliative care and addressing social causes, and remedying the reasons patients request assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

Professor Somerville said the assurance by early proponents of euthanasia that it would not lead to a “slippery slope” had been proven wrong, with research showing that safeguards were being routinely violated.

“In one study in Belgium, they surveyed doctors and found that 32 per cent had gone outside of the regulations,” she said.


Bioethics professor calls on Senate to reject assisted dying bill (Canberra Times

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