SAVES is not affiliated with Exit International / Dr Philip Nitschke.


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Handbook of the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (SAVES)

THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE: THE CASE FOR LEGALISING VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

FROM THE FOREWORD TO THE FIRST EDITION

Once each of us is born death is inevitable. The end can come through accident, illness or the natural processes of decay, i.e., old age. This is part of life's design for, if living creatures were immortal, there could have been no process of evolution through which the human species developed on earth. Where the prelude to death involves suffering, the alternative of a peaceful, painless release should be considered. The choice should be ours. An ever-increasing number of civilised people believes the latter alternative is preferable.

I hope that this important document will help convince members of the medical profession that access to drugs which ensure a dignified, painless end to life should not be confined to them. It should be the right of any person for whom pain, loss of control of bodily functions or severe deterioration of the brain make life intolerable. With the support of the medical profession the law could be changed sensibly to permit voluntary euthanasia under appropriate safeguards.

Sir Mark Oliphant, A.C., K.B.E., F.R.S., F.A.A.
Adelaide, April 1986

ABOUT THE FOURTH EDITION

Voluntary euthanasia is now firmly on the social, medical and political agenda. This handbook, written in support of the movement to reform the law, is offered as an introduction to informed debate.

The foreword to the third edition (1995) referred to the substantial revision necessitated by the many developments that had taken place over the previous five years. The rapidly changing scene over the ensuing three years has left some aspects of the third edition well out-of-date, although the principles on which the voluntary euthanasia movement is based remain unchanged. To avoid the need for frequent further revision this edition is concerned mainly with matters of principle. The changing scene is regularly reported on and analysed in SAVES Fact Sheets, which provide a constantly updated supplement to The Right to Choose. Reference may also be made to the SAVES' pages on the Internet.

May 1998

1.   INTRODUCTION

We share with all forms of life the certainty of death. It is natural to hope that it will come to us peacefully and without prolonged suffering or distress. At present this hope is not always realised. Because of prejudice, taboos, misunderstanding and the legal position in our society, people who have good reason to seek a medically assisted or induced death are unable to obtain it. They may have to endure periods of intolerable suffering, often with unwanted total dependency on others. Many would be relieved of anxiety about their final days if they knew that a quick and peaceful death could be available to them in such circumstances.

The main objective of voluntary euthanasia societies throughout the world is to change this position. They seek the legal right to a hastened death as an option of last resort in medical practice for those suffering with no hope of relief except in death.

Western culture is essentially death-denying. There is a reluctance to discuss death on the part of both patients and doctors and it is often not easy for the approach of death to be explored. Legal prohibition on giving active help to die inhibits the doctor-patient relationship at a time when the patient is most in need of openness, acceptance and reassurance. The inhibition also affects open debate of euthanasia among doctors. Despite increasing readiness to engage in debate, it is still regarded as professionally unwise to indicate support for voluntary euthanasia.

This handbook presents the moral case for voluntary euthanasia; examines issues of medical ethics and practice; considers objections commonly raised against voluntary euthanasia; and indicates how we think the law should be changed.

The reader may or may not agree with our proposals. That is to be expected; it is a very personal matter. Yet it is also an issue of great social concern that cannot be delayed in the hope of consensus. Those who might wish to choose a medically assisted or induced quick, peaceful death should not be denied that option by the minority who hold different views and who would continue to be free to face death in accordance with their beliefs.

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