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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1993 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 16 June 1993) . . Page.. 1878 ..


VOLUNTARY AND NATURAL DEATH BILL 1993

MR MOORE (10.32): I present the Voluntary and Natural Death Bill 1993.

Title read by Clerk.

MR MOORE: I move:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

This Bill seeks to regulate and control the current widespread practice of mercy killing. However, instead of the power to terminate life when suffering a terminal illness being in the hands of doctors, usually in consultation with family members, this Bill allows the individual to make the decision for themselves. The most important word in this Bill is "voluntary", as it places the responsibility and the choice squarely in the hands of the individual.

In societies outside the Western medical ethic, the right to choose the time of one's death has been common. Recent advances in medical technology have enabled doctors to keep patients alive longer - a blessing in most cases; however, in the case of a patient with a terminal and totally disabling condition, perhaps a curse. In many cases, doctors have postponed death rather than prolonged life. They have also denied the right of the patient to make their own choices regarding their own fate. For some, that means the right to choose to die with some dignity and under conditions of the patient's choice.

The Hippocratic oath, to which doctors have traditionally committed themselves, provides for the preservation of life and the relief of suffering. In the case of the terminally ill, however, these duties can become a contradiction. If life is preserved or, rather, death is postponed, suffering may be prolonged or worsened and, if suffering is to be relieved, it may be at the cost of life. The release of suffering, if the patient chooses, should have equal if not greater respect than the prolonging of that life against the patient's wishes. At first, it seems ironic that the AMA chooses to oppose such legislation when they support passive euthanasia, that is, the removal of life support systems. Their members write "not to be resuscitated" on patients' charts, even though the patient might not be involved in the decision making process.

Active euthanasia takes the prime decision making process out of the hands of the doctor and returns it to where it rightly belongs - to the individual. It is with passive euthanasia, when there is no patient consent, that accusations of "playing God" may have some substantiation. In these cases, the doctors, and probably family members, determine whether someone lives or dies. Euthanasia must be voluntary. That is, it may be carried out only if the patient has expressed a desire to be assisted, when in competent and sound mind, and this desire has been expressed persistently over a period of time. The medical practitioner must also have the right to choose whether or not to assist a person who chooses to die.

With this legislation, a person will be able to prepare for his or her future incapacity by appointing an agent or attorney to act for him or her through an enduring power of attorney or a living will. The power of attorney must be given when the person is of sound and competent mind, specify the conditions under which it would apply, and be exercised only under conditions spelt out by the legislation.


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