Last Rights: Euthanasia, the Sanctity of Life, and the Law in the Netherlands and the Northern Territory of Australia
This article considers the legal status of end of life decisions at the close of the twentieth century. In particular, I consider the two major arguments against legalising active voluntary euthanasia: the ‘sanctity of life’ argument that intentionally killing an individual as part of his or her medical care is always wrong, and the ‘slippery slope’ argument that allowing a narrow exception to this rule will inevitably lead to undesired or unforeseen consequences. I argue that reducing the complex of issues raised by euthanasia to a black and white question of whether or not society should sanction intentional killing ignores prevailing attitudes towards patient autonomy and existing medical practice. I discuss the examples of the Netherlands and the Northern Territory of Australia, and argue that the legislative framework adopted by the latter provides better safeguards than the case law that governs Dutch acceptance of the practice. Now that this landmark legislation has been overridden by Federal legislation, it leaves a legal vacuum that will have to be filled by the incremental and unsatisfactory process of judicial law-making.
A draft version is available for free on SSRN here.
The final version is published as Simon Chesterman, “Last Rights: Euthanasia, the Sanctity of Life, and the Law in the Netherlands and the Northern Territory of Australia”, International and Comparative Law Quarterly 47 (1998), 362–393 and available from CUP here.