Elizabeth Godfrey wasn't terminally ill when she committed suicide. Sick for a number of years, Mrs Godfrey didn't want to go into full-time care and was suicidal, but she was not terminally ill.
Mrs Godfrey’s son, John, who admitted to assisting her suicide, was given a 12-month suspended sentence by Justice Peter Underwood in the Tasmanian Supreme Court on 26 May 2004. Predictably, the trial led to calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Elizabeth Godfrey was, by all accounts, determined to commit suicide. While Mrs Godfrey suffered from chronic illness and pain, she rejected a recommendation that she receive 24-hour care in a nursing home to address her symptoms. She didn't want to be reliant on others. She had previously attempted suicide on two occasions.
Mrs Godfrey's tragic case illustrates why it would be dangerous to legalise assisted suicide or lethal injections. Her case is associated with a trend across Australia where, in a number of high-profile cases, non-terminally ill people have taken their lives, making "rational suicide" the new frontier for the euthanasia lobby.
This is the reason Exit Australia founder Philip Nitschke continues to promote his proposed suicide pill, has produced a suicide bag, and has constructed a carbon monoxide suicide machine. It contrasts with community concern about the suicide rate in Australia.
Decisions to commit suicide are not made in a vacuum. They depend very much on the environment in which they are made and on the attitude of others. The defense counsel for John Godfrey is reported to have said Mrs Godfrey was "determined to kill herself and (had) every good reason to do so on the medical evidence".
Was Elizabeth Godfrey's decision helped along by others agreeing that suicide was the best response to her difficult situation?
Media reports say that John Godfrey felt he would be betraying his mother if he didn't help her end her life, and wanted to ensure she did not harm herself by another failed attempt. Mr Godfrey was one of the many carers in our society struggling with the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. These people deserve more support.
But what would have happened if more people had argued the compassionate response - that Elizabeth was needed; that she was valued; and that suicide was no solution? What would have happened if Mr Godfrey had received better support as her carer?
Women are at particular risk of euthanasia. There is a strong cultural influence in our society where women, especially older women, are expected to be willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others. Chronically ill women are acutely aware of the cost of their treatment and of the difficulties their illness can cause their families and friends.
This is the danger of legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide. It puts the onus on each suicidal or terminally ill person to decide to continue to live. These options can be difficult to resist when you're ill - even more so when others believe the "rational choice" is to end your life.
In 1998, Tasmania's Parliamentary Inquiry into euthanasia found that "the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia would pose a serious threat to the more vulnerable members of society and the obligation of the state to protect all its members equally outweighs the individual's freedom to choose voluntary euthanasia".
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