The right to life....and death.



A British woman has told Sky News (UK) that she left her home country and went to Switzerland in order to die with dignity. She suffered cancer, but could not die on her own terms in the United Kingdom.

There it is either illegal outright or, as in Scotland, the laws are uncertain and provide no peace of mind legally for any family members who may help a loved one die.

Instead, Geraldine McClelland, 61, travelled to the Swiss Dignitas euthanasia clinic where doctors are legally able to assist suicide.

“I would like to die where and when I want to die with the people around me that I choose,” she said.

It’s important for my family to be with me. And that’s a difficult thing to do in England. You have to go somewhere else

It’s too late to change the law for me, but please, if you care about this issue at all please make our voices heard. I appreciate that it is a difficult subject, but when dying cannot be avoided, let us be compassionate enough and tolerant enough to respect choice.

“It’s become about paperwork, photocopiers, is my printer working? I should be looking deeply within my soul about what my life has been and I haven’t been able to do so because that time has been taken away from me by our system – and it needs to change.”

Geraldine died on Wednesday.

Here’s the story Mamamia originally ran about an Australian who faced court for helping his partner die:

David Mathers placed a pillow over the face of his partner and smothered her.

Yesterday he told court: “I finished what she’d started, didn’t I.”

His partner Eva was chronically ill and had twice in 48 hours attempted suicide by over-dosing on anti-depressants.

David said he agonised over the decision. He wanted her alive. But he couldn’t bear to see her in agony. It’s an impossible choice but in the end, he killed her. Humanely. The judge wholly suspended his sentence because, it was noted, he acted out of ‘selfless love’.

It’s a right to die many argue should exist in Australia. And it did for a very short while.

Robert Dent was 66 when the lethal dose of barbiturates passed into his system after he entered the command on a laptop. It was assisted suicide and he was sick. He was the first person in Australia, and one of only three, to die lawfully under the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. A short time later the Australian Government amended the Northern Territory (Self Government) Act, effectively making euthanasia illegal.

The computer that administered the fatal dose had three final warning screens before the drugs were administered.

”Are you aware that if you go ahead to the last screen and press the ‘yes’ button, you will be given a lethal dose of medicine and die?” the computer asked in large, bold letters, displaying the options ”Yes” and ”No.”

Mr. Dent pressed the key for ”yes” and moved to the second screen, which reads, ”Are you certain you understand that if you proceed and press the ‘yes’ button on the next screen, you will die?”

Mr. Dent hit the key again and faced the final message: ”In 15 seconds you will be given a lethal injection.” He pressed the key for ”Yes” a final time, waited as the computer continued to buzz, and in 15 seconds a rhythmic pumping sound emerged from the suitcase.

Moments later, the screen went black except for one word: ”Exit.”

Following the re-criminalisation of euthanasia, progress stalled as campaigners lobbied for the right to die with dignity. Those who opposed argued that the sanctity of life must be preserved wherever possible. That life should not be ended voluntarily because it is essentially the right to murder. That people may change their minds. For the record, some have. Some have even recovered months after considering euthanasia.


Now two separate bills in two state parliaments – South Australia and Tasmania – look likely to pass and, with them, the first euthanasia clinic. The euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke, who was in the room when Robert died, said this would happen when the laws are passed and a suitable location is found.

“There is a need for a service to provide end of life expertise for those considering using the new legislation. This is a specialist area where few doctors have expertise,” Dr Nitschke said in a statement yesterday.

The proposal for the clinic, which will be built in either Hobart or Adelaide, has been developed in anticipation of voluntary euthanasia legislation expected to pass through the state parliaments later this year, he said.

“The support for the modified McKim Bill by the (Tasmanian) Premier Lara Giddings, for example, is very likely to lead to Australia’s first state-based euthanasia legislation.”

Just last year, ads explaining the benefits of euthanasia were banned from appearing on television. They were still available online and we covered it right here.

Head of Exit International Dr Philip Nitschke

So here we go again.

Euthanasia is another one of those issues that invoke the ‘slippery slope’ argument. How far is too far and when do you draw the line? Luckily that’s what the legislation is for. The previous bill was clear that those wishing to access assisted suicide must not be depressed, must be terminally ill and must be sound of mind, to name just  a few of the stipulations.

The idea of euthanasia clinics will delight those who argue that criminalising an activitity simply forces it underground. This is not incorrect. Two women, in Australia, were convicted of manslaughter and accessory to manslaughter after importing the drug Nembutal into the country and using it to assist the suicide of former pilot Graeme Wylie.

Nembutal, out of interest, is common among pet shops around the world as a means to put down cats and dogs. It’s known as the ‘holy grail’ of euthanasia drugs.

But euthanasia clinics will revile others. Dr Nitschke says they probably won’t be the place where people die but will exist to give people the facts and advice to support them in making the ultimate decision.

Perhaps that is what this debate will boil down to. Like the heroin injecting rooms during the AIDs crisis in Australia, euthansia clinics might be about harm minimisation. Helping people safely do what they’re going to do anyway. Not condoning it, necessarily, but providing choice. Individual choice.

The battle lines are drawn and you can bet this issue will gain momentum over the coming months.

It’s one hell of a policy question so we’re asking you: should individuals have the right to die if they’re terminally ill? Should family members be able to help? Is it murder if you’re carrying out their wishes?

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