As anti-Life groups continue international campaigns for assisted suicide, Australia is the latest nation to debate the legalization of doctor assisted suicide. Legislators debated bills in two Australian states, Victoria and New South Wales. Victoria passed a bill legalizing assisted suicide, while New South Wales ultimately rejected a similar proposal.
Before the Pro-Life vote against allowing assisted suicide in New South Wales, the treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, wrote a powerful op-ed explaining the inevitable injustice of assisted suicide. In The Sydney Morning Herald, Perrottet points to suicide prevention hotlines, which until assisted suicide legislation was brought into public debate, served the important task of assisting all people with finding the help they need to continue living. Perrottet asks, if assisted suicide legislation is passed,
Will they [suicide prevention hotlines]screen out people whose wish to die sounds rational, and who may qualify under the relevant legislation, distinguishing them from the thousands of callers desperately seeking help to avoid the tragedy of suicide? Will those hotlines be asked to refer people who can legally end their own lives to places where they can get more information on how to go about it? Will the hotlines acquiesce in such requests?
While anti-Life proponents of assisted suicide tout “safeguards” in the laws, Perrottet shows that such arbitrary guidelines do not protect the most vulnerable. The legislation since passed in Victoria allows patients over the age of 18 to legally end their lives with a doctor’s assistance. As Perrottet points out, if society has already endorsed suicide, what prevents a 17-year-old from being eligible? Once the sanctity of human Life has been violated, there is no fundamental reason to protect anyone’s Life. The safeguards also gloss over what Perrottet argues is the ultimate injustice of the assisted suicide legislation: “Doctors will make mistakes. Victims will be pressured. Judgments will be clouded, and among all the arbitrary rules and safeguards, only one thing is absolutely certain: innocent people will die at the hands of these laws if they pass.”
Perrottet acknowledges the need for well-developed palliative care to address ongoing needs of patients in very difficult circumstances. While we may sincerely wish to end someone’s suffering, assisted suicide does not eliminate suffering but only the sufferer. As Perrottet argues, a just society cannot endorse and aid the killing of some people while preserving the lives of others. To the people suffering who claim to desire assisted suicide, we must answer with Perrottet, “I will help you, but I will not help to kill you.”
Assisted suicide legislation has been deceptively marketed as “compassionate.” The reality is that assisted suicide opens the door to coercion, discrimination, and abuse. Instead of addressing patients’ physical and emotional needs, a society that accepts assisted suicide places certain people in a class whose lives are not protected or valued. The truth is that patients most often request assisted suicide not for unbearable physical suffering but for feelings of hopelessness and depression. Already, we have seen that assisted suicide laws put pressure on patients to choose suicide over continued treatment. Already, nations that have embraced assisted suicide are allowing for the killing of people suffering from depression, anorexia, or autism. Hopefully more people will realize these dangers and reject assisted suicide as legislators in New South Wales courageously did.