Australia, what are we not talking about?

When applying for my internship, I was asked to write a 600 word article on something I thought would interest the readers. After much deliberation, I chose the tricky subject of euthanasia. While the issues discussed have not affected me or my family personally, it is an issue I feel strongly about. If this topic is likely to distress you, please don’t read on.

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What Australian issue has huge public support but is very rarely discussed?

A friend recently asked me this question over dinner. I had a think, but couldn’t even fathom a guess.

The answer, he told me, was euthanasia. According to The Herald Sun, 70% of us believe euthanasia should be made legal in Australia. Despite this, its presence in the media has dropped in recent years to almost nothing. The conversation over an individual’s right to die seems to have all but dried up.

With Julia Gillard calling for a federal election this September 14th, it’s time to start discussing the issues we want our politicians to face head on. Euthanasia, I feel, is one of them.

Overseas the campaign for a person’s right to die is gaining momentum. British man Tony Nicklinson, a locked-in syndrome sufferer, has spent years campaigning for his right to die. Sadly, he recently lost his case, with the high court in London ruling that “voluntary euthanasia is murder, no matter how understandable the motives may be”.

And this is where we hit a major problem. Just by defining euthanasia we hit a series of barriers. Is euthanasia murder, or is it kindness? Who is responsible for the death of a human life? The doctor administering the drug, or the patient asking for it?

Die With Dignity, the Australian committee fighting for a person’s right to die, define euthanasia as “the act of bringing about a good death, i.e. one that is quick, peaceful and in the interests of the person concerned”.

When we broaden the term to mean ‘voluntary euthanasia’, they include this harrowing statement: “The definition applies to a person who is hopelessly ill with no other prospect of relief from suffering which that person finds intolerable”.

Hopelessly ill. What an awful way to describe your suffering. It’s something I hope nobody, not myself, my loved ones or a stranger on the street ever have to go through.

More than that, I hope that if I was hopelessly ill, I would be granted the right to die a peaceful, quick death, rather than one drawn out through years of endless suffering. I would wish the same for my loved ones.

In a bittersweet end to Tony Nicklinson’s story, he died on August 22nd  2012 surrounded by family, one week after the court ruled against him. In his memory, his family are continuing the campaign to legalise euthanasia, in the hope that others will not suffer the way Tony did.

It is a subject that opens many areas for debate. Let’s use Tony’s story to restart the conversation. What are your thoughts and concerns on the legalisation of euthanasia? Where do you stand?

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