On 25 May 1995, the Northern Territory of Australia became the first place in the world to pass right to die legislation. The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act lasted 9 months before being overturned by the Australian Federal Parliament. Today, Voluntary Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide are illegal in all states and territories of Australia.
The only end-of-life laws that exist are a patchwork of Advance Medical Directive and Power of Attorney laws, none of which allow a person to ask for active assistance to die. These laws operate on a state-by-state basis. Your access to these laws depends entirely on where you live will.
I saw a friend briefly this morning who had had to take his 11 year old dog to the vet because of prostate problems that were causing him extreme pain and discomfort, as well as impeding his ability to have normal bodily functions. It got me thinking, sidetracked momentarily by the presence of my own four legged companion, about the apparent difference between people and pets. Now, I understand that pets are animals and as such most people do not afford them the same level of attention or importance as other people, but there are those of us that do look at our pets as more than just some animal. My boxer, my gorgeous boy, is my family. He is my partner, he is my son. Until I have children of my own, he is it. Even then, he would continue to be like a child to me, so important is he to my life. When I take him to the vet I don't stop to think "Oh should I spend this kind of money to get him fixed". I wouldn't think that about taking a child to the doctor, I don't think it about my dog.
It got me thinking though, about the apparent ease with which we as humans decide when it is acceptable to end the life of our pets. When the pain and discomfort that they are in so far outweighs the enjoyment of their daily life, we see no issue in sending them to the vet to be put to sleep. And yet we do not afford that same right of choice to people when it comes to ourselves, or those that we love. Now, I understand why there are concerns over other people having the right to choose when someone else lives or dies. But what about my right to choose my own fate? Why do I, as a responsible pet owner, have not only the right but the expected responsibility to take my dog to the vet and have his life ended if he is living in painful consistent discomfort with no other ultimate prognosis than an uncomfortable death. Yet as a person, if suffering from a terminal illness, from which there is no cure or from which it has progressed too far beyond the point of recovery (like cancer or AIDS) I do not have the right to decide my own fate, to determine when I no longer wish to suffer the constant daily pain and suffering that my existence has become. What if I were, heaven forbid, in a motor vehicle accident that left me with such brain damage that I was either in a constant vegetative state, or so mentally damaged that I am no longer myself? Personally, I would not wish to live in that kind of state.
I know certain conditions can be adapted to, such as paraplegia or quadriplegia. A person can adapt to losing limbs or senses such as sight or hearing, but when your brain becomes to physically damaged that you are no longer able to fend for yourself, that you need help with every aspect of your life from going to the toilet to feeding yourself and dressing yourself - why should I not have the right to determine how I choose to live my life or how I choose to end it?
We all have a right to life - why not a right to death? Death comes to us all so why not, in certain circumstances, can it not come on my terms when I am ready for it and when I know, for me and those dearest to me, its the right time to go?