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The right to die

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Monday, 6 August 2018

In my previous life as a veterinarian I lost count of the number of domestic animals I euthanised. I had no qualms about this; in each case the decision to take life was made to end unacceptable suffering.

The animals, of course, had no say in it. That is why I decline to use the term euthanasia when it comes to humans. No one has the right to decide for another whether they should live or die.

Yet that is what is happening right now. People are being killed because of the absence of assisted suicide legislation.


When treating the terminally ill, doctors routinely ramp up the morphine beyond what is necessary in the knowledge that this will likely kill the patient. In many of these cases, it is done despite being well aware that the patient has never given consent to such action.

If assisted suicide legislation was in place, patients would have the legal means to make it clear to doctors how they wished to be treated in the final stage of their life. A doctor who chose to ignore the wishes of a patient who had clearly made it plain that they want to live despite any pain and suffering would do so at their own peril.

The point is that the choice should be available.

Twenty years ago the right to choose was removed from the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Norfolk Island. The Commonwealth's Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, pushed through by Liberal backbencher and conservative Christian Kevin Andrews, not only stripped the rights of residents in these territories to decide for themselves on the issue of assisted dying; it also overturned the NT's existing Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, under which three people had already opted to make use of physician assisted suicide.

Last year the Victorian Government legalised assisted dying for the terminally ill, with MPs voting to give patients the right to request a lethal drug to end their lives from mid-2019.

Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 is a step in the right direction, but it does not cater for those who are experiencing intolerable suffering yet are not terminally ill.


Few Australians would have been unmoved by the story of 104 year-old scientist David Goodall, who travelled to Switzerland earlier this year to end his life.

Professor Goodall was not ill. At 104 you could argue he was certainly dying, yet the human condition dictates that from the moment we are born, we all begin to die.

For this centenarian, it was simply about quality of life. He had lived a full and productive existence; but with his physical independence gone, life had simply become "unsatisfactory".

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This article was first published by the Australian Financial Review.

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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is a former Senator for the Liberal Democrats.

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