The right to choose an assisted death : time for legislation?

Douglas, Bob, Willmott, Lindy, & White, Benjamin P. (2013) The right to choose an assisted death : time for legislation? Australia21, Weston, ACT.


The legal framework that operates at the end of life in Australia needs to be reformed.

• Voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently unlawful.

• Both activities nevertheless occur not infrequently in Australia, in part because palliative care cannot relieve physical and psychological pain and suffering in all cases.

• In this respect, the law is deficient. The law is also unfair because it doesn’t treat people equally. Some people can be helped to die on their own terms as a result of their knowledge and/or connections while some are able to hasten their death by the refusal of life-sustaining treatment. But others do not have access to the means for their life to end.

• A very substantial majority of Australians have repeatedly expressed in public opinion polls their desire for law reform on these matters. Many are concerned at what they see is happening to their loved ones as they reach the end of their lives, and want the confidence that when their time comes they will be able to exercise choice in relation to assisted dying.

• The most consistent reason advanced not to change the law is the need to protect the vulnerable. There is a concern that if the law allows voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide for some people, it will be expanded and abused, including pressures being placed on highly dependent people and those with disabilities to agree to euthanasia.

• But there is now a large body of experience in a number of international jurisdictions following the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and/or assisted suicide. This shows that appropriate safeguards can be implemented to protect vulnerable people and prevent the abuse that opponents of assisted dying have feared. It reveals that assisted dying meets a real need among a small minority of people at the end of their lives. It also provides reassurance to people with terminal and incurable disease that they will not be left to suffer the indignities and discomfort of a nasty death.

• Australia is an increasingly secular society. Strong opposition to assisted death by religious groups that is based on their belief in divine sanctity of all human life is not a justification for denying choice for those who do not share that belief.

• It is now time for Australian legislators to respond to this concern and this experience by legislating to enhance the quality of death for those Australians who seek assisted dying.

Impact and interest:

Search Google Scholar™

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

637 since deposited on 22 Apr 2013
135 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 59240
Item Type: Report
Refereed: No
Keywords: Voluntary euthanasia, Assisted suicide, Law reform, Health law, Medical law, Australia 21
ISBN: 9780987399137
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified (111799)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100) > Criminal Law and Procedure (180110)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100) > Law and Society (180119)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Health Law Research
Current > Schools > School of Law
Deposited On: 22 Apr 2013 07:08
Last Modified: 10 May 2013 01:29

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page