.. mmonwealth parliament considered the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to represent a basic shift in Australia’s ethos and social fabric. It had additional national significance as all Australians, indeed all people, could have used the Act. It therefore became not just a matter for the people of the Northern Territory, but a matter concerning all people of Australia. The Constitutional framework of Australia divides legislative responsibility between the States and the Commonwealth.
The Territories derive their legislative capacity from the Commonwealth, whereas the States do not. States therefore, are different to Territories. Territorians are consequently subjected to a different legislative process than are the residents of the various States. The Territories in question have been provided limited forms of self-government, thus the Commonwealth had the right to intervene in exceptional circumstances. It is difficult to envisage a more exceptional circumstance than euthanasia as it is an issue that deals with the life and death of Australian citizens, indeed potentially all the people in the world.
2) Legal Uncertainty In creating the Bill, which would repeal the NTs legislation, the legal consequences of wording had to be considered. Initially the bill (1996) did not define intentional killing and there was no generally accepted legal meaning. A meaning was proposed by Mr Tom Hughes QC and Mr Joseph Santamaria QC, maintained that intentional killing has a clear and narrow meaning. On this view, the Bill would not interfere with generally accepted medical practices. More importantly, the Bill would not lead to legal uncertainties.
Thus this became the base definition for the Euthanasia Laws Bill. 3) Aboriginal Issues Evidence showed that Aboriginal communities were opposed to euthanasia. In fact there was overwhelming Aboriginal opposition to the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. During the inquiry, prior to the passing of the Euthanasia Laws Bill, a major concern emerged about the Northern Territory legislation’s impact on the willingness of Aborigines to access medical services, given their attitudes to euthanasia and western medicine. Mr Mackinolty, who worked in close association with the Aboriginal people as an educator advocating euthanasia, claimed that even though he personally supported his own right to euthanasia as a non-Aboriginal, his experience in conducting the education campaign had brought him to the view that the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act should be repealed because of its potential to deter Aborigines from seeking prompt medical attention.
Mr Mackinolty expressed the view that the very existence of the Northern Territory legislation is a significant threat to Aboriginal health. Other Aboriginal groups corroborated this statement. 4) General moral, philosophical, ethical and social issues Proponents of voluntary euthanasia created argument based on individual rights, autonomy and choice. Those in favour of voluntary euthanasia maintained that the general public overwhelmingly support its legislation and that such a move would merely bring under stringent control and regulation what in reality is already happening in practice. Opponents of voluntary euthanasia based their arguments on the sanctity of life, religious beliefs, the slippery slope to involuntary euthanasia and the erosion of medical ethics.
As soon as it is allowed that another person to be involved in the death of a fellow human the conclusion must be drawn that the life is not worth living. The concept of a life not worth living and justification of the involvement of a third party in taking that life challenges the very core of our notions of civilisation. As soon as such a concept takes hold within the psyche of our nation we will demean the value we place on human life. 5) Individual Rights and Choice The individual rights and autonomy argument is at first glance persuasive. However even if one supports the principle of euthanasia the question needs to be asked: Can we sufficiently control the circumstances in which we would allow euthanasia? Individuals already have the unfettered right to abstain from medical treatment.
Suicide is not a crime, although we as a community spend millions of dollars each year trying to counsel and dissuade the suicidal. The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act does not so much change the law for the patient as it changes the law for the third party (the doctor). What should be illegal for the doctor became legal under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. This had the potential to fundamentally alter the doctor/patient relationship. Ultimately, a new right is given to doctors to terminate the lives of those who are suicidal and terminally ill.
To describe this as providing a right to die is not logical. 6) The Dignity of Death This controversial description in support of euthanasia is in fact insensitive and derogatory. The dignity or otherwise of a death is not to be determined by the physical circumstances or degree of pain in which the patient finds themselves. With very few exceptions, pro-euthanasia groups dealt with the term dignity as a particular physical circumstance and described it as living or dying in such circumstances as involving a loss of dignity. These circumstances more often than not included loss of continence and mobility. This approach, in referring to various physical circumstances, consistently dealt with circumstances where the person had taken on certain disabilities and described such circumstances as involving a loss of dignity.
A disturbing equation is thus drawn between having dignity and being without disability. The term has been used as though there is a loss of dignity if somebody who was previously without disability takes on a disability in the course of a terminal illness. Whilst it was those concerned about the impact on people with disabilities who have highlighted this issue it needs to be noted that the impact is even broader. Any notion that those who choose the path of natural death or those who choose to live with disabilities are in some way taking the less dignified path should be detestable to any caring society. Unfortunately, this attitude that dying with dignity demands that life ends before such circumstances, carries a message, which only serves to demean those who live in such circumstances. 7) Safe-guarding Most supporters of euthanasia do not see it as an absolute right.
As such it is by definition only available to those individuals who have been deemed to be in such circumstances as to be considered better off dead. Whilst it is understandable that a patient may come to such a conclusion, a third party would also need to arrive at such a conclusion and then be prepared to act upon that view, by administering or providing a substance with the intention of ending the patient’s life. The potential for guilt feelings for being a burden or too costly to those of the community who are in difficult circumstances, may become such that they perceive a subtle duty on them to exercise the euthanasia option. The choice may well become a perceived duty. This is especially so when considered in the context of comments by those such as former Governor General, Hon Bill Hayden’s comments that there is a point when the succeeding generations deserve to be disencumbered -to coin a clumsy word – of some unproductive burdens. Conclusion In recent years euthanasia has become a very contentious topic. The Greek means easy death, yet the controversy surrounding it is just the opposite.
Whether the issue is refusing to prolong life mechanically, assisting suicide or active euthanasia, we eventually have to confront societies fears towards death itself. Above all culture cultivates fear against ageing, death, and dying, and it is not easy for people to except that it is an inevitable part of life. However, the issues that surround euthanasia are not only about death and dying but are also about rights, liberty, privacy and control over ones body. So the question remains: who has the right? Philosophy.