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Friday, September 23, 2011

Euthanasia Safeguards for Doctors, not Patients


The criminal law in Australia holds that the intentional taking of human life is a major criminal offence. This accords with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, which declares that the right to the integrity of every person's life is equal, inherent, inviolable, inalienable and should be protected by law.

Since the intentional taking of human life is the specific aim of every euthanasia law, such a law would be unique in the following critically important ways:

• it would intend to subvert the existing law,
• it would fail to respect the principle that all are equal before the law,
• it would fail to respect the principle that all human lives have equal value and
• it would attempt to gain legal recognition for the concept of life not worth living.

This would present an impossible task, if honesty were to prevail. It would have to rely on such things as asserted but non-existent human rights, shades of deceit, inexact definitions and words or clauses allowing loose interpretations, rather than objectivity and specificity.

The push for legalised medically assisted death in Australia has now increased to the point where bills are before several State parliaments and another is before the Australian parliament to reverse the previous overturning of the Northern Territory Act. I have analysed most of the previous failed bills and noted their weaknesses. Rather than debate the pros and cons of the social role of euthanasia, I believe that members of Parliament, who have sole responsibility for making safe laws, should direct their attention to ensuring that draft euthanasia bills cannot imperil the lives of innocent people who do not wish to die.


The trouble with safeguards

It is evident that the authors of those bills have not read any of the extensive literature on this subject because they invariably include, as so-called safeguards, provisions which are known not to work in practice. A common feature of those who advocate euthanasia bills is their touching reliance on the fact that certain things will happen, just because the draft prescribes it. If that were true, no crime would ever be committed because all crime is currently forbidden by some law.

In 1958, Yale Kamisar, a renowned American professor of law in this field, wrote a seminal paper in which he listed these basic difficulties: ensuring that the person's choice was free and adequately informed; physician error or abuse; difficult relationships between patients and their families and between doctors and their patients; difficulty in quarantining voluntary euthanasia from non-voluntary, and risks resulting from this overt breach of the traditional universal law protecting all innocent human life.

All these problems still exist and others have been added, such as the critical role of depression in decision-making and the evolution in the moral basis for requesting death from the relief of severe suffering in the terminally-ill to reliance on respect for personal autonomy. Some of these will be discussed below.

Read it all here.
 

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