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Euthanasia myths

By Marshall Perron - posted Monday, 19 November 2012

We have a stalemate.

Over 80% of adult Australians believe someone who is close to death and suffering should be able to access assistance to die at a time they choose.

In the past 17 years there have been 38 bills presented to parliaments on the subject and all of them have been blocked, deferred or rejected.


For over a decade voluntary euthanasia (VE) and/or assisted suicide (AS) have been legally available in seven places overseas. Studies show that the dire forecast of threats to the vulnerable and a slippery slope do not exist.

So, what is the problem? Politicians, or more to the point, religious politicians.

One would think that revelations about child abuse would have destroyed any semblance of moral superiority claimed by church leaders, particularly the Catholic church. The leaders of churches and sponsored organisations have been the driving force that has so far thwarted every attempt to decriminalise voluntary euthanasia. Their campaigns have been professional and well funded.

Only a few politicians reveal their religious leanings publicly and honestly state that their faith prohibits them supporting VE under any conditions, no matter how many of their constituents want the option. Many more accede to the religious 'old boys' network citing the classic arguments against law reform like:

  • "No safeguard can be devised that will protect the vulnerable"
  • "A slippery slope to involuntary euthanasia will occur"
  • "Palliative care can meet the needs of every dying person"
  • "The situation in the Netherlands is out of control".

Those and similar claims are boldly made as throwaway lines in the parliamentary debate and the private member's bill is defeated or deferred to later fall off the notice paper.


For the first time in Australia a credible new player has entered the stage. Think tank Australia 21, who recently produced the 'We've lost the war on drugs' report, has issued a discussion paper that presents the main arguments for and against legalising VE and AS without the biased rhetoric used by the usual players. The paper lays out the facts objectively and dispels many of the myths including an examination of how the laws are working in jurisdictions where the actions are legal.

This paper, titled 'How should Australia regulate Voluntary Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide', presents the information in a way that allows the reader to reach their own conclusion. In coming to that conclusion, however, the reader is aware that claims like those listed above are false.

Hopefully such honesty will make its way, through public debate, into the political debate and our elected representatives will no longer escape addressing this issue by making claims that are simply untrue. Progress will be made when we have politicians who are prepared to examine the options of how a law permitting voluntary euthanasia can be made to work safely instead of taking the attitude "It can't be done." To do that, some of them will have to acknowledge that they were not elected to put the views of the church before the wishes of the community.

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About the Author

Marshall Perron is the former Northern Territory Chief minister who introduced Voluntary Euthanasia legislation to the Northern Territory Parliament.

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