The Myth of the Right to Die

flatliningThe phrase “dying with dignity” falls easily enough these days from the lips of many people in liberal democracies such as Australia. It’s a coded phrase, of course, referring to the idea that each of us should be entitled to decide exactly how and when we die—as if an unexpected death, or one that comes as a result of illness rather than our own volition, is by that very fact lacking in dignity. And you don’t even need to be terminally ill to decide it’s time to go; “dying with dignity” is almost being promoted as little more than a lifestyle choice. “The state should no more intrude on personal decisions at the close of life than at any point during it,” argued the Economist, mourning what it saw as an opportunity missed by the UK Parliament in September 2015 to reform the law on assisted suicide: “Governments everywhere should recognise that, just as life belongs to the individual, so should its end.”

Proponents of the right to die defend this ownership of the “end” and argue that they want to uphold the key principle of individual freedom. Freedom is a basic good, they say, and any prohibition is an unwarranted restriction on an individual’s freedom to choose how—and for how long—they wish to live. Yet this absolutist view of autonomy comes very close to asserting that the desire or the choice—or even the need—to die must be understood as a right to die. Choice is paramount; but choice has little to do with “rights”. While I can certainly choose to end my life and may desire to do so, the idea that I have a right to do so is not simply erroneous. By harming the web of social relations and obligations comprising community and family life, claiming a “right to die” actually threatens to tear at the fabric of civil society and do irreparable harm to the social roles and attachments constitutive of individual identity. Exercising the freedom to end one’s own life is coming to be seen as a mark of autonomy and independence of mind. But this view, although increasingly widely held, is mistaken because it ignores prevailing social proscriptions about suicide. The “right to die” is a rhetorical device intended to halt further discussion about the acceptability of self-inflicted death. The “right to die”, in other words, is a myth.

Declaring the freedom to do something is very different from declaring that one has a right to do it. Neither a need nor a desire is identical to a right. Each of us is free to choose to do all kinds of things: to commit burglary, to commit murder, and to drive under the influence of alcohol. The law doesn’t stop us from committing any such acts; it just stipulates the consequences we’ll have to bear if we do commit them—and get caught. But when a particular outcome is desired, rights-based language is frequently deployed in an attempt to turn a freedom to choose that outcome into a right that supposedly guarantees an entitlement to the outcome. As Penney Lewis, Co-Director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College London, has observed, “Transforming an argument into the form of a right increases its palatability and persuasive force.”

Every death by intentional self-harm has a profound impact on others. Such a death often causes great emotional trauma among the family, friends and community of the deceased. Grief is likely to be compounded by complicated feelings of guilt and even anger about what the deceased has done, particularly so when the suicide is an aggressive act directed at others.

Groups such as Exit International, however, use rights discourse to promote the palatability of killing oneself intentionally—that is, of suicide. Founded in 1997 by Dr Philip Nitschke, Exit International argues not only for the freedom to choose to end one’s life, but for this freedom to be understood in terms of the exercise of a right “to determine the time and manner of [one’s] passing”. Exit also promotes the primacy of choice by maintaining a steady challenge to the idea that the only circumstances in which a person might voluntarily wish to end their own life are those of a grave and terminal illness. According to the website, Exit International has a worldwide membership of around 18,000 people, the average age of whom is seventy-five. The vast majority of members comprise “the well elderly” but there is a significant minority that are seriously ill.

For Philip Nitschke and his supporters, death needs to be uncoupled from medicine and understood as an expression of individual preference. Never mind what the doctors say, declares Exit’s website, the decision to die is best left to the individual concerned: “Exit’s aim is to ensure the individual is fully supported by family and friends and has access to the best available information.” But the words and phrases used to convey the apparent reasonableness of exercising that choice—“dying with dignity”, “euthanasia”, and “deliverance”—are all euphemisms intended to break the taboo surrounding suicide. A taboo is a social custom offering protection from that which society deems an inherently harmful practice. Euphemistic phrases about suicide serve to weaken the taboo surrounding suicide by placing some distance between the comforting notion of a decision freely taken and the stark fact that they actually describe the deliberate termination of human life by one’s own hand or with the assistance of another.

The term “right to die” has an admittedly wide range of meanings that can easily lead to confusion. One meaning concerns the refusal of medical treatment. When faced with medical intervention—such as the use of a respirator or a therapy such as kidney dialysis which are intended only to sustain life and alleviate pain rather than cure an illness—any person has a right to refuse treatment, even though to do so may lead to an increased risk of death. The assertion of a right to refuse treatment looks very like the assertion of a “right to die”. As the Canadian ethicist Margaret Somerville has argued, however, “A right to refuse treatment is based in a right to inviolability—a right not to be touched, including by treatment, without one’s informed consent. It is not a right to die or a right to be killed.”

Another meaning of euthanasia does concern the demand not only for the discontinuance of treatment but for positive assistance in dying by, say, a lethal dose of a drug administered either by a physician or oneself. Although this also looks very like the assertion of a “right to die”, it might also be described as the assertion of a “right to commit suicide” or a “right to become dead”. “At most, people have a negative content right to be allowed to die, not any right to positive assistance to achieve that outcome,” Somerville asserts. Perhaps it is more accurate to say a person is free to become dead.

Free or not, suicide is a national tragedy and the leading—and increasing—cause of premature death in Australia. Mortality data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in March 2016 showed that the overall suicide rate increased to twelve suicides per 100,000 people in 2014 (up from just under eleven per 100,000 in 2013); the highest rate since 2001. Men account for a little over 75 per cent of deaths by suicide, but when it comes to overall rates of what the ABS calls “intentional self-harm deaths”, younger age groups of both men and women comprise a higher proportion of those deaths, with the highest rate (30.2 per cent) in the twenty-to-twenty-four age group. According to the National Mental Health Commissioner, Ian Hickie, one of the factors accounting for the recent surge among middle-aged men is that men who were depressed during adolescence in the 1990s have carried suicidal ideation—that is, thinking seriously about suicide—into mid-life. ABS statistics show that in the group of males aged forty to forty-four, 18.3 per cent of deaths are attributable to suicide.

Criminal law codes imposed sanctions for attempted suicide in the past because of suicide’s wider impact on society. Suicide was regarded as an offence against humankind because it deprived one’s family and community of a member prematurely, and denied them the opportunity to care for the troubled individual. In many places, the law has now changed. Attempted suicide ceased to be a felony in England in 1961. Reform happened earlier in all Australian jurisdictions—much earlier in the case of New South Wales, where the Crimes Act 1900 abolished the offence of attempted suicide. It remains, however, an offence everywhere in Australia, punishable by up to five years in prison, to incite, counsel or assist another to commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide. Another practice illegal in all states (although legal in the Northern Territory for a time in the late 1990s) is euthanasia—the painless killing of a person suffering from an incurable illness.

The literal meaning of “euthanasia”, from its Greek roots, is easy or gentle death. Some argue that doctors already often practice a discreet form of euthanasia by using techniques of palliative care to relieve suffering; but there is a world of difference between an analgesic and a lethal dose of a drug. It is one thing if pain reduction has the unintended effect of shortening life, but quite another if a medicine is administered with the direct object of killing the patient. Since few would wish a painful or distressing death upon another, however, the etymology of euthanasia doesn’t get us very far in terms of evaluating the morality of euthanasia. And since the administration of compulsory euthanasia (that is, where a person is put to death painlessly but without their consent) clearly amounts to a murder, it is more helpful to consider the practice of voluntary euthanasia—or suicide; that is, where a person of sound mind seeks the termination of their own life.

The New South Wales Crimes Act indicates clearly that one of the factors according to which an act causing death can amount to murder is where it has been done with the intent to kill another person. Accordingly, not only would a person counselling another to commit suicide commit a crime, the provision in any circumstances of the means to commit suicide, such as acceding to an individual’s voluntary request for the administration of a drug to bring about death, could well be construed as an act of murder. Groups lobbying for the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia contend that when a person voluntarily and freely wishes to terminate their own life, the law should permit them either to be supplied with the means to do so, or to be free to authorise a doctor to do so for them. For the time being, however, any involvement with the suicide of another remains a criminal offence everywhere in Australia.

Advocates of the so-called “right to die” are using the language of rights in their attempt to win moral and legal acceptance not only for the idea that human life is not inviolable but also for the primacy of rights over other forms of moral discourse. Rights language has such popular and political force, says Penney Lewis, that it often obscures those other forms, particularly arguments about duties—that is, those specific obligations, legal or moral, that are owed to others and flow from one’s participation in civil society:

Arguments which are not in the form of rights, such as those premised on duties, do not truly disappear from the debate, but rather are transformed into rights discourse while their original form remains covert and unrecognized.

The eclipse of duties that are “other-concerning” by rights that are “self-concerning” is critically important. When calls for the freedom to be allowed to become dead are couched in the language of rights, they tend to conceptualise a society composed simply of self-interested individuals intent upon severing all social ties and obligations when they see fit. In such a society, no one owes anything to anyone. This is why the assertion of the right to die is what the philosopher Roger Scruton describes as a “claim right” in contrast to a “freedom right”.

According to Scruton, “freedom rights”, such as the right to free movement and the right to property, allow an individual to establish a sphere of personal sovereignty from which that person can negotiate behaviour in relation to others. A freedom right amounts to a justified demand made against others that they refrain from interfering with the individual. It is observed or respected by non-invasion or non-action, thereby enabling us to establish a society in which consensual relations are the norm. Freedom rights do this by defining for each individual the sphere of sovereignty from which others are excluded.

Claim rights, by contrast, are asserted as a claim upon a non-specific benefit such as education, health, a standard of living, or even compensation. They are simply demands that someone else do something or give something that the one demanding has an interest in their doing or giving. According to Scruton, assertion of the “right to die” is the assertion of a “claim right” because while it is thought to allow the individual to express sovereignty over his or her life, it simply presumes an obligation owed by the state to the individual—but one that is neither negotiated nor reciprocal. It is the individual alone who decides whether or not life is worth living; his or her decision is not to be overridden by any other institution or structure, whether the state, the church, or the family. For those who assert the “right to die”, the conviction that autonomous individuals are quite free to define their own conceptions of the good is warranted by the presumption of human dignity; this, in turn, is intimately connected with self-respect and the paramount status of individual choice: if this is what I want, I am justified in demanding it in virtue of my autonomous status as a human being. As Leon Kass has remarked:

In civil society the natural rights of self-preservation, secured through active but moderate self-assertion, have given way to the non-natural rights of self-creation and self-expression; the new rights have no connection to nature or reason, but appear as the rights of the untrammelled will.

Lying at the very heart of the concept of human rights is the notion of the inherent worth of the individual: human beings are due a certain minimal respect—which includes the inviolability of human life—simply in virtue of their being human. Isn’t this the very inviolability that guarantees that abuses such as torture are always objectively and absolutely wrong? Yet as the neuroscientist Neil Scolding has remarked: “The moment the law, or society, accepts that the rule of fundamental respect [for human beings] can be waived in certain individuals, whether of their choice or otherwise, the principle is lost. Mere anarchy is loosed.” Proponents of a “right to die” assert, of course, the overriding importance of individual autonomy—what Kass sees as being the expression of the “untrammelled will”—and on this basis hold that the principle of the inviolability of human life can be waived. But as Scolding warns:

The most important reason why belief in such a right is wrong-headed lies in a consideration of society. For both as a society, and for the sake of society, we in fact hold that self-determination, and patient choice, are not moral absolutes … In attempting to waive our personal inviolability in some way … the harm is not just to ourselves but, far more importantly, to others around us, to society as a whole. The impact of our choices and actions on society … has always overridden autonomy in such instances.

The rhetoric of rights deployed to promote the idea of “dying with dignity” actually entails a grotesque inversion of the very principle of a “right”. Developed for the protection and preservation of the individual against the demands of the state and of other individuals, the language of rights has now been commandeered to promote the wants and demands of the “self” that include the desire for self-negation. This individuated “self” finds its ultimate expression in the self-negating assertion of the “right to die”. This new rights rhetoric has little to do with the protective function of human rights but is concerned solely with trying to fathom immensely complex moral problems:

In trying to batter our way through the human condition with the bludgeon of personal rights, we allow ourselves to be deceived about the most fundamental matters, about our unavoidable finitude, and about the sustaining interdependence of our lives.

Kass has wryly suggested that asserting the “right to die” is simply “the complaint of human pride” against the injustice meted out by nature against human beings ill-fated, as we all are, to die. “The ill-fated demand a right not to be ill-fated,” he says. “Those who want to die, but cannot, claim a right to die.”

The span of human life is short, and death is certain. It is up to us to decide how we use our biblically allotted “threescore years and ten”, but we have a limited number of years in which to make something of ourselves and to create lives that express meaning and purpose. Religion at its best, far from being a code of oppressive rules and constraints, is one feature of society that can help us give such shape to our lives by recalling us to an awareness of our interdependence and the importance of community. Rituals around birth and death, together with those marking important stages along the way, all help to express the dignity that encompasses both the span of an entire human life and the intrinsic value of the person both as an individual and as a member of society.

“Rights” involve obligations owed by, and to, individuals. The health of civil society depends on acknowledging the many responsibilities those mutual obligations place upon us. The absolutist claim to autonomy sits uneasily with the basic principles and requirements of civil society, because a deliberate and voluntary act of suicide amounts to a repudiation of those mutual obligations. We bear a general duty to relieve the suffering of others—but not at any price demanded by the autonomy absolutists. Doctors have dealt with the problem of prolonged suffering by employing the palliative principle of double effect; in effect to hasten death but not directly aiming to do so, only so as to reduce suffering. But as the psychiatrist Anthony Daniels has observed, “Once it becomes a question of rights rather than humanity, there is a kind of creep: why should the dying have all the best deaths? And who better than a person himself to decide whether his suffering is intolerable?”

Claims for the “right to die” amount to a one-way ratchet effect in asserting the primacy of autonomy. But they need to be resisted because of the impact such autonomous choices are likely to have on the wider society—on the family, on friends, on the local community—in which we live. We must also resist arguments that none of these considerations can ever outweigh the value of individual choice; indeed, it is these considerations that must override assertions of individual autonomy. The “right to die” is a rejection of the duties we owe others and of the claims others have upon us. As such, it is a threat to the social and legal norms underpinning civil society because of its moral assault upon the dignity of every human being. The “right to die” is a dangerous falsehood—a myth—that must be resisted.

Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow in the Religion & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies.


39 thoughts on “The Myth of the Right to Die

  • Lacebug says:

    And I have a choice but not a ‘right’ to think that peter kurti is a religious ratbag who has absolutely no idea what it is to witness the suffering of the terminally ill. I doubt that someone who is in agony from cancer really cares about the “moral assault upon the dignity of every human being” whatever the f**k that even means. They just want the pain to end.

    • Mark Smith says:

      That’s a disappointing emotive slander there, Lacebug

      • Lacebug says:

        Please tell me what the moral assault upon the dignity of every human being means?

        • Mark Smith says:

          Even though state-sponsored suicide is not a new idea and our society has grown reasonably familiar with the ethical issues around it (I’m an optimist here) legal appropriation would still have an enormously jarring effect of a new prevailing morality that penetrates medical philosophy, familial culture, and rights of inviolability (which Peter was especially focussed on) to name a few bedrocks. But I’ll grant you Peter’s closing phrase (kind of rhetorical as I read it) you quote is provocative enough to at least partly justify the emotion in your response.

          Peter: tastiest morsel was your quote from psychiatrist Anthony Daniels. Cheers

          • says:

            I have most of Daniels’/Dalrymple’s books and they, like his many columns in a wide variety of periodicals, abound in such tasty morsels. Between him and Thomas Sowell lies a wealth of wisdom.

        • PT says:

          Interesting En Passant. The last few are actually the issue are they not. Euthanasia is sold as ending the suffering of someone about to die of cancer of the pancreas etc. It and the “Right to die” movement isn’t about people taking their lives, but others doing it for them.
          Should we legalise that, and what would the impact on society be?

        • PT says:

          Really Lacebug? How about society approving suicide as an appropriate solution to a persons issues. Not just “terminal illness” but being old, not wanting to be “decrepit” etc.

    • says:

      The original poster has a “right” to an opinion – as do all of us.
      Problems occur when individuals attempt to upgrade that opinion to an “edict”.
      (Please look it up – I am not your PA.)

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    Lacebug: You are merely echoing the media wail of Andrew Denton, whose emotionalism transceds reason. If you must elevate the suffering of the relatively few in that situation of extreme pain to primacy in the argument about euthanasia, you might consider it in terms of a sacrifice they are making to protect the many others from exploitation, corruption and state intrusion in our lives.

    • says:

      “you might consider it in terms of a sacrifice”
      I am old so have witnessed many people trying to come to terms with the oftentimes intolerable and seemingly unending pain that their loved ones are called upon to endure, with the only certainty being that death will eventually come – but when?
      If some dumbass said that in their hearing I would love to be on the subsequent jury.
      Emotive – I know.

      • lloveday says:

        The use of “intolerable” is becoming endemic to describe pain that is clearly not intolerable, because it is being tolerated. It’s like the many who “can’t live on the dole/pension” – they don’t die, so clearly can live.

        • says:

          Yes , I think I see your point.
          So if some uncharitable person was to call your comment incredibly stupid , which in a hostile world might have every chance of becoming endemic, he ought to dispense with “incredibly” and simply refer to your comment as stupid.
          Thanks for clearing that up.

    • Jody says:

      Of course, in much earlier times – long before civilized society – tribes were forced to leave the frail and ill behind, simply unable to bear the burden of somebody who had to be physically carried in a nomadic society. So, dropping them in the snow or leaving them in a cave was “euthanasia”. As with many things in the modern world, we’ve advanced so much that though something is theoretically possible it is not practically possible because of a raft of laws, ethics and religion – those things which never troubled out distant ancestors.

  • en passant says:

    What warped tosh!. However, it was not until I reached your job statement that the suspected clouding of your arguments by religious bias was confirmed. At my advanced age I am probably a lot closer to certain death than you are, yet I consider that there is a 50% chance (a pure guess) that I will suicide at the appropriate time.

    So, when is the appropriate time for an atheist like me? Any of the following will do:

    1. A degrading physical state (yet an alert mind that allows me to see and remember what I once was) – choice based option
    2. Extended or recurrent pain that reduces my life to nothing more than just focusing on surviving today and pain reduction – quality based option
    3. A deteriorating mental state that reduces me to a vegetative state of no value to me or anyone else. I would rather I was remembered for my fine physical state, my razor sharp wit and my brilliant logic and incisive insights than as a Potato Head – choice & quality based options
    4. The loss of much of the meaning to my own life through the loss of my companion for wife, family or a few best friends – choice based option.
    Yes, there are always those close family members who will remain and who will still visit me weekly (when they can) for an hour or so (plus Meals on Wheels, of course), but the Balance Sheet of my losses by this stage far outweighs the positives of my remaining circle so quality also becomes an value and enjoyment issue.
    5. A deteriorating general state of health, welfare, Enjoyment of what is now the ‘Burden of Life. A Quality & Choice option.
    My father was bedridden for months and not enjoying any moment of any day, yet I encouraged him ‘to hang in there for the sake of the family.’ I am haunted by my mindless stupidity when the correct answer was “Go now and we will take care of everything.” If he had lived another 20-years it would have spent another 7,305 days focused on avoiding bedsores and looking forward to … Count this as a major quality of life issue.
    6. A collapse in my economic condition (say through an unjust superannuation tax that reduces me to a state of penury that I have saved and scraped my whole life to avoid in my ‘golden years’) – choice & quality issues.
    Why would I want to continue in a one-room flat with only free-to-air ABC programmes such as Q&A for entertainment? and
    7. I have lived all that I want to, ticked off the bucket list and choose now as my time to depart this deteriorating, uncivilised world for the void that is death – because I choose this is my time when there is a declining benefit from living.

    By all means enjoy your own torturous clinging on to a deteriorating, painful life (as per Point 5 above) but keep your religiously distorted views out of my life and upcoming choice of death.

    • Lacebug says:

      I agree with you en passant. Peter’s views are clouded by the belief in a God that doesn’t actually exist.

    • Jody says:

      Excellent comments and I identify with your list. You’re obviously far more patient and tolerant than I. Just the loss of my hearing and a few aches and pains will be enough for me. But how? The first thing that springs to mind is “nil by mouth”. In my mid 60s I’m becoming less and less tolerant of “the issues” and I often say to my husband, “you know, I couldn’t care less if I was never to wake up again; I’ve had such a good life”. He, of course, has his own selfish reasons for wanting me here; the family will thrive regardless. There are just a few good things that keep me going – but, oh, they’re crackers of things!! Come the day, though, and I’m outta here!!! (I’ve even said to my husband, “If we had to go and live in the Sydney western suburbs I’d go to bed and never get up again”!!)

      Anecdote: The great conductor Carlos Kleiber had prostate cancer when his wife died in December, 2003. He could not cope at all when she died and lasted but 7 months himself. He drove his beloved Audi A8 across the Alps from Munich to a tiny village in Slovenia to their holiday home. He was not seen again after he got out of that car. The neighbour alerted his daughter in Munich two days later and she found him “dead; sitting beside a table”. He had written letters (of farewell, as it now happens) and tidied up his affairs before driving to Slovenia. So, I don’t know how he did it but he did – even though suicide is never discussed. And his phenomenal recording of the Brahms #4 was found in his CD player in that Audi. When I recently learned that I was moved ineffably. He had a son, a daughter and a grandson in Munich but he had no interest whatsoever in living.

      • Homer Sapien says:

        Jody, I applaud your taste in music yet sometimes I would classify your opinion on par with “Musikantenstadl.” Probably got the punctuation wrong again;-)

        • Jody says:

          Well, if you’re going to “classify” somebody’s opinion you’d better get the punctuation right – and perhaps a job in the Bureau of Classifications. You probably edited J. Evans Pritchett’s “Measuring Poetry” (from the film “Dead Poet’s Society”). I have no idea what “Musikantenstadl” means and it’s certainly lost on this musicologist.

          • Homer Sapien says:

            Sorry Jody, bit remiss of me to bring fun into this sombre theme exposed in the above article. Living in Vienna and not knowing the “Musikantenstadl?” Dr Google will help to explain this kind of folk music which could ease the pain of applied euthanasia for classical music lovers to be rescued, oops…here I go again.

    • lloveday says:

      Quote: “…keep your religiously distorted views out of my life and upcoming choice of death”.
      You chose to bring the writer’s views into your life by reading his article, if indeed they are in your life.
      How far did you get before you decided his views were objectionable to you? Did you keep reading? If so, why? And why do you presume to tell him what to not write, and then, no more or less legitimately than he, take the liberty of expressing your views in the same forum?
      He has not directed his views at you specifically let alone forced you to read them, nor does he have the power to impose them on you as a government may; you have voluntarily read his views and may agree or not, act according to them or not.

    • Gardenjan says:

      el passant

      You may not agree with the author’s various viewpoints about coping with life’s intolerable pain and vagaries, but you have , perhaps unintentionally, finished your response in support of the critical point in his presentation – that every person has a choice to end his own life (and you can do so very easily if you so wish) – but you do not have the right to do so and you do not have the right to request for any other person to actively support your chosen action.

  • says:

    A very touchy subject. It affects different people in different ways. After having watched both my parents die [in their late 80’s] I don’t want my kids and grandkids to have to go through the same sort of thing. As long as I knew that they [my family] cared for me so that I wouldn’t ‘die alone’ is all that I would ever ask of them. I wouldn’t like them to see me actually die.
    My mother had left specific instruction that in the event of an untreatable event she was not to be revived but the hospital she went to after a severe stroke told me that they could not legally abide by those sorts of requests and that they had to attempt to treat her. The best that they would/could/did do was to sedate her heavily and to provide pain relief. As she was provided with fluids via an intravenous drip, she virtually died of starvation – not a nice thing to see – it took over a week.
    To my mind religion and via/with that, God, was most probably an ‘invention’ of early humans to cope with the concept of ‘death’. I know that Peter [and others] mean well, and I can follow their reasoning even though as an atheist I don’t necessarily agree with them. And it is hard to get around the fact that they are in effect imposing their will on me, via their God, for the most personal thing anyone will ever do besides creating a new life, i.e. dying. There is a line from the song – THE GAMBLER – which is appropriate here – “the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep” – even though I can’t say I liked the song or its sentiments much.

  • says:

    Well, I read Kurti’s article twice to see what there was in it to justify Lacebug’s emotional outburst claiming that Kurti is a religious ratbag. En passant normally writes sense, but he also dismisses the article with contempt without addressing any of the arguments raised none of which relied even obliquely on religious faith. It was only Kurti’s biographical note that suggested that his views might have some basis in religious faith, but there certainly are none in the article.

    Only Geoffrey Luck introduced some reason into the argument, as he invariably does, and in those very few words completely destroyed the other’s emotive nonsense that did nothing but evade the real and very serious public policy issues set out in Kurti’s article. It is an inescapable fact that in places where euthanasia is legal, eg The Netherlands the system is wide open to abuse, and has been abused. It was abused by Nitschke in the NT, and it inevitably will be abused again. Just about every argument I’ve ever seen by advocates for euthanasia are based on the their experience of watching a loved one die a painful death. Tough, that’s life, and no reason to legalise murder.

  • en passant says:

    Yes, watching a loved father take 5-months to die and shrivel to 35kg in the process may have coloured my view. As I said, I did not fee him the right line, but gave him the expected one. ‘Hang in there, your life is sacred and must be extended to the point of … [fill in the appropriately emotive word].
    You say the ‘right to die’ has been abused. How can that be if I just choose to end it after everything I want from life has been satisfied there is no driving force left, no real fun and no belief in a psychotic myth to sustain me? Valhalla, Avalon, Heaven, Styx, Hell (look it up, as it actually sounds like a fun place), Avalon, Nirvana, – so many choices in the supermarket of the gods that death is looking quite attractive. Just ask any sexually repressed, immature suicide-bomber salivating over his dreams of 72-virgins (perish the thought!).
    Read again Point 5 & 7 above as, honestly, although the Quadrant Online Blog will miss me, it will survive without me.

  • says:

    At the other end of life, at the beginning, my mother took away my right to choose whether to be aborted or not. Sort of makes me wonder who actually owns my life.

  • says:

    Your wish to top yourself under any given set of circumstances is quite a different thing from involving others in the process. By all means, choose your moment and go. You’ve always been, and no matter what the law says, always will be free to take your own life. Even the simplest implications of an officially sanctioned legal euthanasia process quite boggle the mind. For starters, a significant bureaucracy will be needed to keep the process kosher. And the temptation to make euthanasia compulsory becomes almost inevitable for Nazi-style “untermenschen”, eg the mentally ill. Give the Peter Singers of this world an inch and they’ll run the proverbial 1.6 km.

  • lloveday says:

    Quote: “…acceding to an individual’s voluntary request for the administration of a drug to bring about death, could well be construed as an act of murder”

    Looks like my recollection is faulty, but I recall my old football team-mate Paul Rofe, when SA DPP, saying of one of Nitschke’s killings “What I have just seen is murder” – but would even Nitschke allow a video of himself killing a human? But then he did cut a healthy dog’s throat with a knife just to see it die, and is close to, if not the most ignorant, arrogant person I’ve encountered.

    From Dr Google, it appears Rofe heard, not saw – “according to Paul Rofe, South Australia’s director of public prosecutions, Nitschke made a “technical confession” to Wild’s murder during a speech given at a press club luncheon. Reportedly, Nitschke expressed the intention of ending the patient’s life. Rofe said that Nitschke demonstrated the required elements of murder, namely “a deliberate act, requisite intent, no lawful justification.” (

  • Jody says:

    @Homer Sapien: Oh puhleeze, Musikantenstadl!! No wonder I didn’t know it – Andre Rieu on steroids! Now, if it was Grafenegg or Styriarte that would be something completely different! They used to hand leaflets out for these festivals whenever we’d leave the Konzerthaus or Musikverein.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    … The “right to die” is a rejection of the duties we owe others and of the claims others have upon us. As such, it is a threat to the social and legal norms underpinning civil society because of its moral assault upon the dignity of every human being. The “right to die” is a dangerous falsehood—a myth—that must be resisted.
    “Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow in the Religion & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies.”

    By the time one is so decrepit as to want to die, and life has become “unbearable”, one is likely to be no longer physically capable of bringing it all to a swift end. That is the “moral assault” on individual dignity.
    My own father died at the age of 90 of complications following surgery for colon cancer. The palliative care he received in hospital was a regime of opiates so strong (for his pain) that he continually slipped in and out of consciousness. I was there when he was conscious, and his nurse came and asked him “Mr Macdougall, if you go into a coma from all this, do you want us to revive you?” To which he straight away and without hesitation replied “no”. He was still ‘tolerating’ his condition in an LBLovedayesque fashion, but he clearly did not wish this have to continue this ‘toleration’. (So I wonder what LBLoveday would make of that.)
    Then there is the famous suicide by Captain Oates of Scott’s ill-fated British 1910-1913 expedition to the South Pole. On the return journey, after having discovered that Roald Amunsen had beaten them to the Pole by a month, they failed to meet the dog teams bringing them crucial supplies. Oates was very badly frostbitten and according to Scott’s written account: “now with hands as well as feet pretty well useless”, voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death. Scott wrote that Oates’ last words were “I am just going outside and may be some time”. ( )

    Here we have an individual sacrificing his life for what most would agree was the greater good of the (ordeal-bound) group, tribe, nation or whatever. Theologians appear to have no trouble with that. It is where that same individual sacrifices his life for his own good that the objections start coming in. For them, no suffering is so great as to be intolerable; they, and not the person doing the suffering must be the judgement committee, and the prohibition on assisting a suicide must be strictly observed. Theologians generally couch it in terms of a mere man taking unto himself the authority of God; Dr Philip Nitschke or no Dr Philip Nitschke.
    According to Christian theology, God set the situation up in the first place and sacrificed himself to himself to pay for the sins of all humanity. In other words, God committed suicide: by (as Christ) offending the Roman authorities with his preaching, and then giving himself up for execution. So in Christianity’s most important death ever of any human being, suicide has God’s endorsement: unless of course, He/he is a total hypocrite.
    No doubt about it: God chooses to work in a mysterious way.

    • Mark Smith says:

      “Offending the Roman authorities”?

      A basic survey of the gospels will reveal to you that certain Jewish leaders at the time, along with a large fickle mob they managed to stir up, insisted Pilate crucify Jesus. Even though it was plain to see he’d been delivered out of jealousy, Pilate weakly granted their request fearing riots. Jesus himself said Pilate’s was the lesser sin.

      Anyway, my main point: anyone can suicide. Many succeed at martyrdom even. But only one was qualified to save a remnant of mankind through one death never to be repeated or added to. Call this true or false but humour or mock it it as a mere suicide? Not a very convincing grab at irony there. Nor novel. Yawn…

      • ian.macdougall says:

        A basic survey of the gospels will reveal to you…

        Mark, before you yawn yourself comatose I suggest to you that there is more controversy among scholars, Christian and Jewish, over the Gospels than over all other parts of the Bible put together. St Matthew leads the charge by recording the infamous ‘blood curse’ in which the Jewish mob obligingly relieves the Romans of any moral responsibility for Christ’s death, despite the fact that it is those same Romans who are about to carry out the crucifixion, down to its last sadistic detail. ( )
        This blood curse is best understood in the context of the increasing Jewish unrest under the Roman occupation that culminated in the Jewish Revolt of AD 70. The writer/s of Matthew is/are clearly concerned to deflect the wrath of the Romans away from the Christians and onto the Jews.
        See also

        • Mark Smith says:

          This morning’s sleep was like a comatose thankfully. Don’t worry, I’ll take this comment of yours more seriously without a yawn (coffee’s helping).

          Hmmm, it wouldn’t be surprising if there is more scholarly debate on the gospels than the rest of the bible put together since they are at the crux of the Chistian faith (the death and resurrection), IF that is actually true, which it may be. If you want some credibility concerning a shaky theory, I wouldn’t start with wiki or the undergrad theology of etwn (if the link you gave me is a typical sample of their theology).
          If Pilate’s washing of his hands to absolve himself of guilt combined with the crowd’s acceptance of full transference of guilt upon themselves had any real meaning, it would be less Roman culpability. Jesus’s words to Pilate make that possibly seem irrelevant here, but let’s be clear: certain Romans were complicit. The best explanation in this case is the most obvious one if you’re working off the most reliable manuscripts. The crowd’s response: “here’s what you want to hear Pilate, now just do what we’re asking.

          We all curse. Many drop to the ground with zero impact, while some affect the lives of our own or others dramatically. You don’t need to write a thesis on demonology to understand that. They can be broken or succeed generations…then be broken (sorry, you digressed me).

          And hey, I like to dabble in pseudo-whatever too; and sure you probably have some good points to make as a pseudo-theologian; but it distracted from the main part of your comment which was otherwise interesting.

          • Mark Smith says:

            And to preempt you, yes, Roman complicity is an understatement.

          • ian.macdougall says:

            I am not a theologian of any kind, and don’t buy the sin-and-redemption myth; and Wikipedia in my experience is an excellent first stop: which is usually all I am interested in. If it is wrong, please specify EXACTLY HOW. Generalisations are not good enough.
            Jewish writers tend to view the (otherwise improbable) blood curse as a convenient myth, written for a purpose of deflecting Roman wrath away from the Christians at the time of the Jewish Revolt of AD 70.

  • Renato Alessio says:

    In Australia, the euthanasia debate is a very flawed debate, in my opinion.

    On one side there are people who argue that life is sacred, and other people who point out the slippery slope argument – that where euthanasia has been legalized a lot more vulnerable people seem to be being euthanized than what was ever the original intention.

    On the other side, people argue that it is wrong to force people to suffer terribly for long periods of time with no hope of ever getting better, and the people who argue that there is a basic human right to euthanasia, regardless of the amount of pain involved.

    Only problem is what would this debate be like if there existed a miracle drug that allowed people riddled with cancer to lead a relatively normal life, free of pain, and free from stupor from drugs like morphine – where they could do gardening, shopping, watch TV, surf the internet – till the day they dropped dead? There are plenty of disabled people around who can’t do that now, and they aren’t pleading to be euthanized. If such a miracle drug existed, the debate wouldn’t be about the right to die with dignity, but rather the right to commit suicide.

    Guess what? The miracle drug has existed for over a century. And with technology that has been around for over three decades, a device was invented that delivered measured doses of that drug, and it is attached to a belt at the patient’s waist, and he or she happily wanders around till they drop dead.

    The miracle drug in question is Diamorphine – also known as heroin – which remains the best painkiller known to mankind, and which when applied properly, doesn’t produce the stupor of morphine.

    So, in Australia we like to discuss whether it is moral or not to keep someone suffering in extreme pain, and whether he should be allowed to die with dignity, rather than discussing why we are deliberately withholding the drug that would totally eliminate his pain. If the latter were implemented, and people weren’t suffering, there wouldn’t be much of a debate on euthanasia.

    Yes, I know that Palliative care people claim that with the modern drugs that they have at their disposal they can achieve the same pain-killing effect as heroin. But when my mother was dying an agonizing death from pancreatic cancer, those drugs didn’t seem to be working very well at all – till a nurse came in with morphine needle, administered it, and my mother promptly died a few minutes later. Funny about that.

  • Egil Nordang says:
    A most enlightening and civilized conversation/discussion between Andrew Bolt and Andrew Denton on this topic last night.
    If it is a good deed to euthanise a suffering/dying animal, then, with safety precautions in place as outlined by Andrew Denton,
    same logic should apply for a suffering/dying person.

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