There must be choice for end-of-life exit

The law should help us halt incurable suffering, writes Adam Shultz.      

ADVOCATES who are campaigning for a change to the law, which will allow our terminally and incurably ill the power to end their lives, are starting to gather steam. This is the next major social reform requiring committed activists and advocacy, to ensure Australians can die with dignity surrounded by loved ones at a time of their choosing.

As someone who lost their dad to terminal illness, I commend their efforts. I state from the outset that I am a member of the not-for-profit organisation, Dying with Dignity NSW.

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National polls conducted by Newspoll in 2007, 2009, 2012, and in NSW in 2011 consistently found public support for voluntary assisted dying to be around 80per cent. That is, most Australians want the option to choose a peaceful death if they are terminally or incurably ill and experiencing unbelievable suffering. 

Yet, our state and federal governments have avoided the issue for fear of alienating religious lobby groups. 

The irony is that the vast majority of Christians in Australia support legalising voluntary assisted dying for the terminally or incurably ill, as they view it to be consistent with Jesus’ message of love and compassion.

It is particularly concerning, given that we live in a democratically free and secular society, where individual rights and liberty are taken as a given, that religion still plays such a significant role in public policy.

Human rights and compassion for those who are suffering must be at the fore of any national discussion. Those advocating for the rights of the terminally or incurably ill to die are not imposing their moral beliefs onto others, but simply demanding that this be an option available, should they wish to use it. Respecting the individual’s right to choose how to end their life in these circumstances requires legislating in NSW and around Australia.

The decriminalisation of voluntary assisted dying is starting to gather global support. Several European countries and four American states have legalised assisted dying for the terminally and incurably ill. Legislators have introduced death-with-dignity bills or pledged to do so in Washington DC and 15 other US states. The Canadian Supreme Court struck down a law against physician-assisted dying and ordered the Canadian Parliament to give mentally competent consenting adults the right to seek medical assistance to end their lives when suffering from a severe and incurable condition.

It is time for our politicians to do the right thing by those who are suffering. People facing death have enough worries, let alone the fear of their final moments. We must make it easier for them and therefore the status quo cannot be maintained.

Activists must step forward and continue to advocate for legislative change. Terminal and incurable illness can affect anyone.   Our laws are out of touch with societal thinking and require urgent updating.

Adam Shultz lives in Valentine and holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Sydney and is a member of Dying with Dignity NSW

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  • commented 2015-10-09 19:11:05 +1100
    The argument is very persuasive. I witnessed my father expire from lung cancer. I saw the extraordinary efforts the medicos took to postpone the inevitable. That having been said … I can’t help asking myself how "convenient " it would be for a commercial facility to cut costs by “cutting to the inevitable” or some patient who is not responsive enough having the decision made for them.