The President’s speech for the World Federation Right to Die Societies Conference; Reframing Suicide, An Elective Death and Human Rights

The following is the address given by the President of DWDACT, Jeanne Arthur, to the The World Federation of Right to Die Societies  Conference in Chicago 2014.

Reframing Suicide

An Elective Death and Human Rights

The World Federation of Right to Die Societies

Conference in Chicago 2014

Jeanne Arthur, President of Dying with Dignity ACT Inc.

I would like to introduce myself by saying that I have no background in medicine or law. I am a former teacher who became interested in the subject of euthanasia when it became news with the introduction of the Northern Territory’s Right to Die Bill in Australia and its subsequent repeal. I have always been interested in the subject of suicide and I believe that it cannot be disconnected from a right to a good death.

My purpose today is to reframe the whole concept of suicide to show you that in fact it is the modern face of death. In the twenty first century no-one should be suffering when they die. We have the means to ensure that everyone has at their disposal all the tools to ensure a good death and by that I mean a quick, pain free, peaceful death that takes advantage of something that only humans can do. That is to foresee their own death, to make a decision about how and when to end their own life and to actually take action to do it. This is a unique feature of being a human being that no other animal has.

At the two previous conferences I attended the response to the introduction of the topic of suicide has been ambiguous, passive or avoided. It seems to me that the issue of suicide is central to the whole discussion of a good death. In addressing it today I want to show you that a reasoned, non-deprived, non-punitive, non-violent death that is accepted and freely chosen by the person when the person decides that it is the right time to die; i.e. end their own life trajectory, is the right of every person.

In Melbourne four years ago at my first conference Michael Irwin raised the issue of whether people who are tired of life should have the option of deciding when they can die. When he raised the issue it was sidelined and I’m pleased he hasn’t been put off and is raising it again at this conference. At the last conference one of our Japanese speakers said that he wished that Japan had retained the cultural acceptance of suicide and Ludwig Minelli stated that he thought that the Right to Die Movement was helpful in addressing the issue of suicide.

What I want to do today in this talk is to look at three famous suicides from history to analyze them for what we can learn from them about suicide today. Then I wish to look at some work that Dying with Dignity ACT has undertaken in relation to Human Rights that addresses suicide and the right to life. Included in this work is a possible model for what we have chosen to call an Elective Death that would allow a respectful end of life to all citizens in any community who want to manage their own death.

I am not going to talk about people who suicide out of despair because that is a well-known idea about suicide that is generally believed to be the reason for suicide. If we were to actually have the opportunity to talk to people who want to die we would have a better idea of why they want death but that will never happen until we accept that some people want to die and agree to help them to die without judgement.

My first subjects are probably the most famous pair of suicides in world history; Antony and Cleopatra. This couple is so famous that they have become almost mythical but we know that were two real people because of Plutarch’s history of their lives. Plutarch died in 120 AD, Antony lived between 83-30 BC and was in his fifties when he died. Cleopatra was thirty nine when she died soon after Antony in 30 BC. Plutarch had immediate relatives who suffered under Mark Antony’s leadership so he was in a position to know about some of the events he was describing and he was a good historian. His work bears evidence of books he read on his subjects and people he spoke to who had information about his subjects.

In brief; Mark Antony and Cleopatra shared the rulership of the Roman Empire with Octavian, Caesar’s nephew, after Caesar had been assassinated by other Romans committed to the Republic who saw that Caesar was intent on seizing control for himself and becoming a tyrant. Octavian eventually declared war on Antony and Cleopatra defeating them at Actium.

Antony and Cleopatra are both described by Plutarch as reacting to the defeat by withdrawing and taking actions to protect themselves. Antony secluded himself saying that

‘the ingratitude and injuries which he had suffered from those he had esteemed his friends, made him hate and mistrust all mankind.’

While they also partied with their friends, Cleopatra studied the effects of drugs establishing that the best poison to bring about death was the bite of an asp

which without convulsion or groaning brought on a heavy drowsiness and lethargy with a gentle sweat on the face, the senses being stupefied by degrees; the patient in appearance being sensible of no pain but rather troubled to be disturbed or awakened like those that are in a profound natural sleep.

Plutarch states that Antony thought of committing suicide a number of times before he finally did but on each of these occasions he ‘was hindered by his friends.’ Antony’s final decision to suicide came when he thought Cleopatra had died. Plutarch quotes him as saying

Now Antony why delay longer? Fate has snatched away the only pretext for which you could say you desired yet to live.

Antony being a Roman General attempted to die by falling on his sword. He seriously wounded himself but he died slowly of blood loss. As he died he asked Cleopatra who was actually still alive

not to pity him….but rather rejoice for him in remembrance of his past happiness who had been of all men the most illustrious and powerful, and in the end, had not fallen ignobly; a Roman by a Roman overcome.

Octavian invaded Alexandria where he made every effort to calm Cleopatra’s fears and imply that she would have everything she wanted for her children and treated her and her children honourably. He also allowed Cleopatra to bury Antony in splendour. Eventually she learned that Octavian intended to take her and her children to Rome. Plutarch quotes her as saying two things as motives for her death

Let me not be led in triumph to your shame

Nothing has afflicted me like this brief time that I have lived away from you.

Finally Plutarch describes how she might have contrived her death with the asp but he also states

What really took place is known to no one.

Plutarch describes Octavian’s reaction this way.

Though much disappointed by her death he could not but admire the greatness of her spirit and gave order that her body should be buried by Antony with royal splendour and magnificence.

My other subject for this talk is Cato. Cato was born in 95 BC and died in 46 BC. Cato lived right at the time of the conflict between those Romans who favoured a Republic and those who favoured Caesar. Cato aligned himself with the Republicans. In relation to his suicide there are two important factors; Caesar’s increasing dominance and Cato’s belief in suicide which was part of his belief in the ideas of Stoicism. A Stoic believed in living a simple, upright life. Cato was a model for the Stoic philosophy being a man of high integrity in everything he did. After a life of honourable public service he found himself in a city called Utica attempting to protect the lives of everyone in the city, contending with Romans who all thought differently about what to do as Caesar approached ready in all likelihood to raze the city and kill all the inhabitants. He helped all those that could, to depart by sea

And gave money and provisions to those that wanted; all which he did with great order and exactness, taking care to suppress all tumults, and that no wrong would be done to the people.

But already

Every class of men in Utica could clearly see, with sorrow and admiration, how entirely free was everything that he was doing from any secret motives or any mixture of self-regard; he, namely who had long before resolved on his own death, was taking such extreme pains, toil and care only for the sake of others, that when he had secured their lives he might put an end to his own.

His relatives and friends fearing his intentions removed his sword from his room. Eventually Cato became angry when it was not returned to his room. Plutarch describes the reaction of his son and friends.

Then his son, with the rest of his friends, came running into the room, and falling at his feet, began to lament and beseech him.

Cato replies

When and how did I become deranged and out of my senses that thus no-one tries to persuade me by reason, or show me what is better if I am supposed to be ill advised? Must I be disarmed and hindered from using my own reason? And you, young man, why do not your bind your father’s hands behind him, that when Caesar comes, he may find me unable to defend myself?

When the sword is finally returned to him he is quoted as saying

Now, I am master of myself.

After enquiring about the fate of those who had left Utica, Cato

Took his sword and stabbed it into his breast………he did not immediately die of the wound …his son and all his friends came into the chamber where seeing him lie weltering in his blood, great part of his bowels out of his body but himself still alive… they all stood in horror…Cato plucked out his own bowels and tearing open the wound, immediately expired.

Despite the news that Caesar was coming, nothing

could divert them from doing honour to Cato, for they sumptuously set out his body, made him a magnificent funeral and buried him by the sea side.

Motive

 

Antony and Cleopatra

Cato

Antony and Cleopatra: Love

Cleopatra: Pride

Pride

Commitment to his beliefs

Method

 

Antony and Cleopatra

Cato

Cleopatra: unknown but probably snake poison

Antony Falling on his sword/blood loss

Falling on his sword/exposure of internal body parts

Reactions

 

Antony and Cleopatra

Cato

  • Friends attempt to stop Antony
  • Eros kills himself rather than kill Antony
  • Octavian is distressed about the death of his long-time colleague and allows Cleopatra to bury Antony
  • Octavian wants to take Cleopatra back to Rome to show off his victory over her to the Roman people and is disappointed when she suicides but honours her with a grand funeral.

Friends and family attempt to stop Cato from suiciding but once he is dead they honour him with a sumptuous funeral.

Outcomes

 

Antony and Cleopatra

Cato

  • A story of great love has been preserved which serves to remind us of how deeply some couples feel about each other and enables us to empathize with their desire to die together.

Cato’s story is one of commitment to a set of ideals which included the right to determine the way he died.

Cato died the way he lived and his story has been preserved because of his integrity.

What can we learn from these life stories?

  • For Cato and Cleopatra pride was an important element of their decision to die.
  • In Antony and Cleopatra’s case we can see a pattern that is demonstrated repeatedly of a couple who love one another so much that they do not want to be parted by death.
  • Cato believed his decision was a rational response as a defence to Caesar’s aggression.
  • From the nature of Cleopatra’s death we can see that a peaceful death could be achieved even two thousand years ago.
  • Authorities prefer to have their enemies alive to humiliate rather than to allow them to die and achieve glory. Everyone still knows about Antony and Cleopatra but who remembers Octavian even though he became the first emperor of Rome?
  • Authorities (those in power and friends and families) prefer people to live miserable lives rather than let them die. They regard the suicide as selfish. They wish the person to think first about them rather than him/herself.
  • Roman authorities and friends and families did not want these people to die for one reason or another but they celebrated their lives once the decision was taken out of their hands by the suicide unlike most suicides today which are hidden from sight by authorities and families.
  • The external cause of the decision was the likelihood of subjection to a form of government they could not accept.
  • Suicide was a choice all these individuals felt was open to them. They elected to die rather than choose a life that was unacceptable to them. This is true of all suicides.

Today we would be encouraged to make a judgement that their decisions were cowardly and that they should have been more resilient. Their contemporaries were saddened by their choice to die but they admired them for what they had achieved in their lives and their spirit.

Now I am going to move to the present day, to the Australian Capital Territory where I live which has a couple of laws that influence the discussion of making a choice to die. The first is the ACT Self Government Act which was modified by the Federal government after the bill in the Northern territory was quashed. It states

The Assembly has no power to make laws permitting or having the effect of permitting (whether subject to conditions or not) the form of intentional killing of another called euthanasia (which includes mercy killing) or the assisting of a person to terminate his or her life.

The ACT Crimes Act 1900 states

Section 16 The rule of law that it is an offence to commit, or attempt to commit suicide, is abolished.

Section 17 A person who aids or abets the suicide or attempted suicide of another person is guilty of an offence punishable, on conviction, by imprisonment for 10 years.

If a person incites or counsels another person to commit suicide; and the other person commits or attempts to commit suicide as a consequence of that incitement or counselling; the aforementioned person is guilty of an offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment for 10 years.

Section 18 It is lawful for a person to use force that is reasonable to prevent the suicide of another person or any act that the person believes on reasonable grounds would, if committed, result in the suicide of another person.

Dying with Dignity Act Inc. has been trying to wrestle with the impact of these two laws by looking at the ACT Human Rights Act to test whether they can be challenged.

Our first attempt was to test the Crimes Act legislation on the basis of incompatibility between the Human Rights Act and the relevant sections of the Crimes Act as follows by making a claim of discrimination.

Points of incompatibility between Human Rights Act 2004 and Sections 16, 17, and 18 of the Crimes Act 1900

POINT 1

Section 8 Recognition before the law

Everyone has the right to enjoy his or her human rights without distinction or discrimination of any kind.

Point of incompatibility

  • People who want to die are intentionally excluded by section 17 of the Crimes Act from gaining any help whatever, even the normal supports of the ACT health system and they are denied the specific health remedy, i.e. death, they seek for their suffering which is recognized implicitly in section 16 as being something they can lawfully do. They are also threatened by section 18 with the possibility of lawful assault.
  • Article 26 of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that

 

‘All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’

We believe that Section 17 of the Crimes Act privileges the opinion that people must die a ‘natural’ death of the diseases of old age or submit to a degrading and usually painful manner of death or act unlawfully to obtain peaceful means of death and discriminates against those who hold the opinion that they should be able to undertake their deaths in a safe manner within a modern health system at a time of their choosing. The belief in the right to determine your own death is a long held cultural belief in Western and some Asian cultures evidenced in literature thousands of years old which should be respected but is treated with contempt by the cultural assumptions behind Sections 17 and 18 of the Crimes Act.

 

 

POINT 2

ACT Human Rights Act

Section 10 Protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

1 b) No-one may be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.

Point of Incompatibility

Section 17 forces people who want to die, to die horribly. It sanctions self-assault and Section 18 allows assault by others on a suicide.

POINT 3

ACT Human Rights Act

Section 12 Privacy and reputation

Everyone has the right

b) not to have his reputation unlawfully attacked.

Point of Incompatibility

The act of suicide is treated as a great shame to be hidden. Suicide is kept quiet. It is discouraged. It is regarded as always a great tragedy. The label ‘suicide’ while lawful to use is demeaning and reflects the general failure by society to understand that to end one’s life is a choice a person can intentionally make in the exercise of their own lawful right. The choice is not respected as a choice that is made like every other choice people make in their lives.

POINT 4

ACT Human Rights Act

Section 18 Right to Liberty and Security of person

1)         Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.

Point of Incompatibility

Section 18 of the Crimes Act gives permission to other people to assault a person who wants to end her/his life. Section 17 denies the person wanting to die the liberty to undertake her/his death or to undertake it except by insecure means i.e. self-assault. This provision is surely inconsistent with modern views on the status of the human person.

POINT 5

ACT Human Rights Act

Section 28 Human rights may be limited

1 Human rights may be subject only to reasonable limits set by territory laws that can be demonstratively justified in a free and democratic society.

2 In deciding whether a limit is reasonable all relevant factors must be considered including the following;

a)         The nature of the right affected

b)         The importance of the purpose of the limitation

c)         The nature and extent of the limitation

d)         The relationship between the limitation and its purpose

e)         Any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose the limitation seeks to achieve.

Point of incompatibility

Section 17 is not a reasonable limit on the human right to die expressed by section 16. Swiss law has demonstrated that it is perfectly reasonable in law to assist suicide. One purpose of the limitation posed by the ACT law is to prevent people dying early but it is not effective as people continue to suicide despite the law. The Swiss have demonstrated that it is possible to provide a reasonable less restrictive limitation.

POINT 6

ACT Human Rights Act

Part 4 Application of human rights to Territory laws

Section 30 Interpretation of laws and human rights

So far as it is possible to do so consistently with its purpose, a Territory law must be interpreted in a way that is compatible with human rights.

Section 31 Interpretation of human rights

  • International law and the judgement of foreign and international courts and tribunals, relevant to a human right may be considered in interpreting the human right.

Point of Incompatibility

Section 17 of the Crimes Act 1900 is incompatible not only with the implicit human right to die expressed by section 16 of the Crimes Act but also with the ‘inherent dignity of the human person’ identified as the source of all human rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The double standards and internal contradictions in these laws must be evident to anyone who thinks through the consequences of these laws. It is no longer a crime to commit suicide but no-one can help anyone to suicide.

The laws have wide ranging detrimental impact on the ‘inherent dignity of the human person’;

  • for the terminally ill; no doctor will help them except to give symptom relief even if they beg for death. Any doctor who does help another to die, and they do, becomes a criminal.
  • for suicides; they are forced to hang, gas, jump off high buildings, poison, drown or shoot themselves
  • for attempting suicides; they are left untreated and unsupported.
  • for families of suicides; they have had to go through the trauma of losing a loved one to a violent death.
  • for people who deal with suicide such as ambulance and medical staff; they are subjected to the trauma of seeing hanged, shot poisoned, drowned individuals.

Section 16 allows that it is lawful to end one’s life so it should be able to be done in a humane and respectful way. Swiss law has shown that it is possible to do that perfectly safely. People who elect their deaths are as entitled to have safe, respected deaths as those who do not so elect.

 

At the same time we developed a model of what an Elective Death unit might look like.

ELECTIVE DEATH UNIT

  1. Would be based on the following principles and definitions in legislation, regulation and communications.
  • It is the responsibility of government to ensure that everyone dies with dignity. No-one should be excluded from having a good death.
  • A good health system should be able to guarantee a good death. A good death is defined as a peaceful, pain free and quick death.
  • A civilized society respects the rights of its citizens to die at the time of their choice.
  • To elect death is a legitimate goal that some people have for themselves.
  • Like birth, death is a matter of individual choice and in the same way it should be supported by the state.
  • Elective death is defined as a voluntary decision to shorten one’s own life.
  1. An Elective Death unit would be well-publicized in or linked to a local hospital.
  2. The Elective Death Unit would have a) a 24 hour a day service with the resources to make professional personal, financial, and relationship counselling available to clients as well as immediate access to police, the coroner, organ donation and funeral services; b) an education facility designed for all members of the community and targeted for specific age groups and their particular stage of life needs to educate and inform people about death; to assist people to let go of life, to understand what death is and to prepare themselves for death; c) rooms with the facilities to assist those wanting an elective death to die comfortably in the presence of people they select; d) provision of the facilities to enable a peaceful, pain free and quick death to be undertaken independently without the help of other people.
  3. The Elective Death Unit would provide any adult ACT citizen with an elective death following a) provision of a reason for the wish for death, b) offers of help through counselling or other assistance as needed, c) a cooling off period negotiated with the person wanting to die. The decision to die would be respected as would the decision to live.
  4. On diagnosis of a terminal illness, terminally ill people may request a referral from their doctors to the Elective Death unit for an elective death at the time of their choice. Accessing the counselling services of the Elective Death Unit would be a matter for them.
  5. The Elective Death unit would be required to maintain records of the reasons for people requesting an elective death and report regularly to the Assembly on their findings.
  6. The ACT Government would co-ordinate public and private health systems to link into the Elective Death unit so that they can refer clients to it.

After a long period of time the Human Rights Commissioner wrote back to us saying that the Commission would do its own analysis of our claim. When we heard nothing we pressed her further and finally the Commission assisted us to find a law firm in Victoria a State which does not have the Federal government legislation preventing it from making laws on euthanasia. The Law firm Justice Connect seemed willing to make some moves to assist us but wanted us to find someone in Victoria to be the complainant. We approached DWDV but they declined to help us saying they were too busy. I have since approached another individual Victorian who has agreed to take up our ideas with Justice Connect.

So I approached the ACT Human Rights Commission again with another idea I had which came from some life experiences that had been told to me by some friends. They agreed to look at my ideas. With the support of the DWD ACT Committee I drafted the following submission.

Dying with Dignity ACT Inc. asserts that its members are subject to the following breaches of human rights law and requests the Human Rights Commission to make a ruling on its assertions.

Human Right: Every person has the right to life and has the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life.

From this law on the right of every person to life, we conclude;

      1. The responsibility for the right to life ultimately lies with every person. Every person has the right to provide all things necessary for the preservation of her/his life including the right to defend her/himself from someone who might want to deprive her/him of life; and the right to prevent the arbitrary deprivation of his or her own life.
      2. The right to life is not just the right to the life of the body. Every person’s life is the whole trajectory of life from birth to death and includes everything that occurs in between those two states as well as the person’s character, beliefs, ideals, relationships etc. Death is integral to the life of any person. No person has a life that does not include death.
      3. The word ‘arbitrary’ has two meanings and we believe that both meanings apply in interpreting this right. It means (1) capricious, whimsical, random, chance, unpredictable, casual, wanton, unmotivated, motiveless, unreasoned, unsupported, irrational, illogical, groundless, unjustified. (2) autocratic, dictatorial, despotic, tyrannical, authoritarian, absolute, uncontrolled, unlimited, unrestrained.
      4. Nature arbitrarily (Def. 1) deprives a person of life at the time of nature’s choice. Nature is the most arbitrary depriver of life. No person can predict the whims of nature to deprive her/him of life. No person knows exactly what disease or timing nature will use to bring about death. Nature is also arbitrary (Def. 2) in that it is absolute and we have limited powers to resist it. Eventually it forces us to die. Laws that require the person to die by disease make the person subject to the arbitrary forces of nature to deprive the person of life. The only death that is non-arbitrary i.e. reasoned and non-depriving is a non-punitive, non-violent death that is accepted and freely chosen by the person when the person decides that it is the right time for the person to die; i.e. end their own life trajectory.
      5. The State (representing every person) can defend every person from being deprived of life by making it illegal to do so and by punishing people who deprive any person of life. But despite any and all statements about the protection of life and the State’s assumed duty to protect it, the State can (Def. 2) arbitrarily claim or arrogate the sovereign power to argue to deprive any person of life and can exercise this sovereign power actually or potentially to deprive a person of life.
      6. Death by disease is the means used by the state to test that arbitrary (Def. 1) and (Def. 2) deprivation of life by others has not occurred. All death is treated as suspicious unless it has been confirmed as having occurred by disease. All people around the dead person are potential deprivers unless this confirmation has occurred. However the State cannot guarantee the person the right to life (i.e. defence and protection from others) and in general can only act after a death has occurred to apprehend and punish the life depriver.
      7. In asserting that persons must die by disease the State is acting arbitrarily (Def. 1 and Def. 2) because; 1) there is another way that people might die which would not involve the arbitrary deprivation of life by any means. 2) In insisting on this approach to the right to life the State is potentially depriving the person of her/his ability to defend her/his right to life and increasing the likelihood that the person will be deprived of life by others. 3) The State is arbitrarily (Def. 2) coercing the person to be subject to the arbitrary (Def. 1 and 2) forces of nature to deprive the person of life. 4) The State arbitrarily (Def. 2) coerces those who do not want to die by disease and who want to die of their own volition to deprive themselves of life by arbitrary (Def. 1) means. All of this is contrary to this human rights law.
      8. Only the person can act to prevent the deprivation of life by others at the time it might be occurring or defend her/himself from a depriver at the time of the deprivation. The State coercively exploits any illness that has occurred naturally so that the person cannot defend her/himself.  Doctors, hospitals, family members or the State have complete access to the life of the person and can deprive her/him of it either through legal or illegal means.
      9. Given that the State, acting for the person, requires the person by law to die by disease in order to demonstrate that the person has not been deprived of life by some other person, the State is putting the person into the position where the only way the person (who according to human rights law is the prime agent in assuring the right to life) can be completely sure when dying that s/he will not be deprived of life by doctors, hospitals, family members or the State, is to have control over death. This would mean that the person should be well enough to make a reasoned, non-random, decision free from the dictates of others and other arbitrary factors about when and how to die by medication the person can take by him or herself in a safe environment when s/he is ready. In subjecting the person to the arbitrary forces of nature (timing, nature of disease, irrevocable power to deprive the person of life) to deprive the person of life the State itself, is breaching this human rights law.
      10. For all the reasons outlined above no State has the right to enact laws which prevent the person from exercising her/his right to life and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life. Any State that does is in breach of this human rights law.

Dying with Dignity ACT Inc. asserts that the only way every person can be sure that s/he will have the right to life and not be arbitrarily deprived of life at the end of life by any means including nature, is to have full control over her/his death as described in points 4 and 9. Dying with Dignity ACT Inc. believes that ACT law and Federal Government law is in breach of human rights law on the right to life and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life and therefore requests that the ACT government change its laws to assure this human right is available to all members of Dying with Dignity ACT Inc. and requests it to challenge the Federal ACT Self Government Act which encroaches on this right of its citizens who are protected by the ACT Human Rights Act.

Human right: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief

1 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes-

      • The freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his or her choice; and
      • The freedom to demonstrate his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or as art of a community and whether in public or private.

2. No-one may be coerced in a way that would limit his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.

Following below are the aims of Dying with Dignity ACT Inc. This is a statement of the beliefs of the association which has been incorporated in the ACT. We believe that our freedom to practice our beliefs at the end of life or at any time we wish to end our lives are severely limited by the law and that coercion (we are required to die of disease, hang, gas or perform other violent acts to end our lives) is the preferred practice of death of the ACT Government and it therefore denies us access to peaceful, life ending drugs that would allow us to practice the death we believe we should have.

Dying with Dignity ACT Inc. believes that ACT law is in breach of human rights law on the freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief and requests that the law be changed to assure this human right is available to all members of Dying with Dignity ACT Inc.

CONSTITUTION

DYING WITH DIGNITY (ACT) INC.

1.         NAME

The name of the association is “Dying with Dignity (ACT) Incorporated”, referred to        hereafter as “the Society”.

2.         AIMS

Preamble

We assert that our bodies belong to us as individuals and that we have the right to determine the circumstances of our dying & death as we have in the rest of our lives. We expect our community to support our wishes and provide the facilities required to enable us to have the death of our choice.

Aims

      1. To work with the ACT community to create the legal environment in which all adult ACT & region residents can die with dignity at a time and place of their choice with the degree of assistance that they determine is appropriate.
      2. To promote the concept of an elective death as an alternative to concepts of suicide or voluntary euthanasia and to encourage support for elective death on Medicare.
      3. To promote the idea that those who want to shorten their lives should be able to have a peaceful death.
      4. To encourage the use of medication that would provide people with a peaceful, pain free, quick death.
      5. To educate the community about the role and work of medical professionals & carers for the dying and to work for their legal protection if they assist a person who has made a reasoned choice to die.
      6. To encourage & educate people about dying and death so that they will be fully informed about what will happen to them when they die and to encourage participation in courses which allow people to celebrate their lives, to grieve the loss of their lives and to think positively about death.
      7. To support and encourage other like-minded organizations in Australia and internationally to create a legal environment in which people can die with dignity at a time and place of their choice with the degree of assistance that they determine is appropriate.
      8. To promote the addition of a right in Human Rights law to a peaceful, pain free, quick death at the time and place of the individual’s choice with the degree of assistance that s/he determines is appropriate.

Dying with Dignity ACT has argued with the ACT Human Rights Commission that the ACT Government is breaking six of its own human rights laws.

The ACT Government argues that it cannot challenge the Federal Government law preventing it from making laws on euthanasia and assisted dying.

We have given our material to Victoria in the hope that Neil Francis can take these arguments up in Victoria where the Federal Government has no power to interfere with State law on this matter.

We believe that all that is required is for authorities to acknowledge that some people have always asserted their right to have control over their own deaths. This does not have to be a tragedy. We argue that a category of death called an elective death should be available to enable people to die a reasoned, non-violent accepted death when they are ready.

People are extraordinarily uncomfortable about death and a good deal of that discomfort we bring on ourselves. Maintaining laws that force people to hang themselves, requiring people to die of disease and obsession with violent death which is the least likely kind of death anyone will experience as well as not accepting that we are all going to die makes us behave in inhuman ways. Dying with Dignity ACT hopes that in asserting our human rights which have been lawfully agreed to by the ACT Legislative Assembly that we will eventually help to establish an elective death for any Australian who wants it.

What I have attempted to do in presenting this paper is to suggest that human rights legislation could help us to bring dignity to the end of life beyond that currently proposed by current legislation. As human beings we have the capacity to rethink the way we have thought in the past. Suicide has always been too independent an act for authorities regardless of who they are; governments, families or the church but it gives us a key to how death could be something we should be able to manage for ourselves. Everyone is going to die. If we could put aside our current prejudices death would not be the terrible experience of illness, violence or loneliness that it currently is. In our exploration of the human right to life and right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life we found that in fact the right to life is described as ‘every person’s’; not the right of the state to manage for every person and that the only way not to be arbitrarily deprived of life is for people to be able to make their own decisions about when and how they will die. We believe that this is the only respectful way forward for us to take.

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