SUBMISSION OF DAVID FARRAR TO THE
INQUIRY INTO MEDICALLY ASSISTED DYING BY THE HEALTH COMMITTEE
About the Submitter
- This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.
- At present it is legal for people to end their lives, but illegal for anyone to assist with this.
- While active euthanasia (an active step to end life) is illegal, passive euthanasia (withholding treatment that could prolong) is legal and not uncommon
Quantity of life vs Quality of life
- It is a general aim of individuals, society and government for life to be as long as possible, and as happy as possible. We only live once, so it is absolutely normal to try to have both good quantity and quality of life.
- The issue is when quantity and quality of life come into conflict. There are frequent situations where the quality of life can become so intolerable, that decisions have to be made about trade offs.
- As a general principle I believe that if someone is of sound mind, they are best placed to decide for themselves whether to trade quantity of life for quality of life. The quantity traded may be just a few days, or it may be longer.
- If someone of sound mind has decided for valid reasons to end their life, it should not be a criminal offence to assist them, so long as a proper process is followed.
- Any law to allow assistance should regulate a process to ensure that the person wanting to die is of sound mind, and that this is verified.
- Currently passive euthanasia occurs with no regulatory oversight. Based sometimes on just verbal discussions, decisions are made to with-hold treatment that could extend life. I in no way suggest this has ever been abused, or doctors not acted in the best interest of their patients. But having no regulation in this area means that we can’t be certain.
- While euthanasia is generally associated with those terminally ill, it also has relevance for others who have degenerative conditions.
- For example, those who have Huntington’s Disease. HD has no cure and destroys both the mind and body until the person can’t move and has dementia.
- The awful choice for people with Huntington’s Disease who wish to avoid being unable to move or think can be to kill themselves at a relatively early stage unaided, as they may lose the ability to do at a later stage.
- The result of our current law is that they may (and do) end up killing themselves many years before they start to lose quality of life. A law allowing them to know they can be assisted to die when their quality of life diminishes unacceptably may actually extend their life by many years.
- Many people are concerned about the potential for abuse of a law which allows people wanting to die to have assistance.
- Ideally any system would have safeguards so there are no false positives – that there is no chance of someone being assisted to die, who genuinely doesn’t want to and it isn’t a result of pressure or manipulation.
- But there is no system that can give 100% assurance. Just as there is no system that gives us 100% assurance with food safety, with successful operations, with car safety etc.
- We have a criminal justice system based on the belief that it is better to let 100 guilty people go free, than one innocent person go to jail. However, we know that sometimes an innocent person is sent to prison. This is not an argument for having no criminal justice system – it is an argument for having rigorous safeguards.
- A sensible analysis should look at the risk of abuse vs the benefits a law change will have on those who are genuinely suffering and would welcome assistance if they wish to die.