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The arbitrary nature of euthanasia 'safeguards'

By Paul Russell - posted Thursday, 19 December 2013

It is a simple statement of fact that, in terms of euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation, so-called safeguards never live up to their hype nor promise.

Some have wryly observed that no law ever stops people from breaking said law, no matter what the subject matter. True enough; but few laws deal with the finality of death. This is effectively an admission that safeguards are never safe – abuse will happen.

The trouble is that euthanasia and assisted suicide laws give licence, in supposed prescribed circumstances, for the laws against homicide to be breached. We're effectively saying that it is okay to kill people or to assist in their suicides if the conditions attached are fulfilled.


This is beyond ridiculous. What makes it seem attainable is the miasma of false compassion (and attendant 'horror' stories) and the promise of safeguards to protect the vulnerable.

Some have attempted to argue that there is no risk to vulnerable persons. If that were the case, why would we need safeguards at all? But even if doctors and nurses, family members and carers all acted with absolute ethical probity, without even so much of a hint of 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' the risk of wrong diagnoses and prognoses alone should still foreshadow enough of a problem for legislatures to say, No.

Yet supporters of euthanasia & assisted suicide and the promoters of bills still push hard for their objectives. Adjectives like 'strong', 'robust', 'effective' and 'comprehensive' are often used to bolster the noun: safeguards. Yet belying these claims we find that failed bills get reworked and represented along with the 'new and improved' tag that makes it seem more like a washing powder promotion than a bill designed to kill people. The continued failure in Australian jurisdictions should really gladden the hearts of euthanasia activists, at the very least because their earlier, flawed bills were dispatched to the dustbin!

Recent developments in Belgium which saw their Senate pass a bill to extend euthanasia to children and to Alzheimer's sufferers' points to another side of the discussion about the failure of safeguards. Call it the 'slippery slope' or 'incremental extension' or 'the inevitability of bracket creep'; what is really happening here is the clear identification of 'safeguards' as arbitrary.

Belgian Senator Dr. Louis Ide said, in defence of his support of the new bill:

A calendar age to me is an abstract concept, and it is separate from the reality, but it is a criterion like to use lawyers...With this new law, the new law on euthanasia more responsive to the social reality... Anyone who looks at this law honestly, notes that it is an adaptation of the previous euthanasia so that it responds to a better social reality. (Google Translation)

While it may be true that a 'line-in-the-sand' at 18 years of age cannot account for every person's maturity and development, it was, nonetheless, included as a 'safeguard' in the original Belgian law:

Section 3 The physician who performs euthanasia commits no criminal offence when he/she ensures that:
§ The patient has attained the age of majority or is an emancipated minor, and is legally competent and conscious at the moment of making the request:
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This article was first published on Paul Russell.

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About the Author

Paul Russell is the Director of HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide

Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

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All articles by Paul Russell

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