HEALTH

Q&A Audience Member Calls 'Bullsh*t' On Anti-Euthanasia Panellist

"It's got nothing to do with the community, darling. It's to do with our family."

10/04/2017 11:05 PM AEST | Updated 11/04/2017 9:38 AM AEST
Twitter/QandA
"Bulls---"

An anti-euthanasia academic who claims assisted dying is the "killing" of individuals which changes community values has clashed with a woman who believes she will take her own life when she can no longer take care for herself.

Appearing on the ABC's Q&A, Bioethics professor at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Margaret Somerville said legalising assisted dying nationally for individuals who wish to be euthanised could lead to a "slippery slope" that "doesn't uphold respect for life at a societal level."

"Your death doesn't affect just you. Your death is a social event. It affects your family, it affects your community," she said.

"And ultimately, if what we're doing in society is changing the law to allow this type of, putting it bluntly, killing, then it is a seismic shift in our values as a society, and it doesn't uphold respect for life at a societal level and you have to have respect for life at two levels -- for every individual person and for society in general."

Somerville then went on to have a heated exchange with a female audience member who said both her and her 90-year-old husband, Ron, have decided to end their own lives when they can no longer take care of themselves.

The woman, who wasn't identified by name, delivered a perfectly-timed and cutting exclamation of "bullsh*t" in response to Somerville's claim: "How you die does have to do with the community".

Prompting even Tony Jones to look taken aback.

You can watch the full discussion below.

Prior to what will undoubtedly go down as one of Q&A's highlights of the year, the audience member had kicked off the discussion around assisted-dying, saying there will be no sense of "killing" when both her and her husband choose to take their own lives individually.

"Right now we're in good health. We do not intend to take our own life until we need to. And it's not about killing anyone. We will be doing it ourselves," she said, primarily addressing Somerville.

"I'm not asking Ron to kill me. I will do it myself. And Ron will do it himself. I don't know what you're on about, darling, about killing. That is definitely the wrong word to be using."

"But it is still killing yourself," Somerville shot back.

"Yes, but that's up to me, and it's got nothing to do with the community, darling. It's to do with our family," the questioner responded.

Somerville also went on to clash with fellow panellist, author and assisted dying advocate Nikki Gemmell over the idea that euthanasia promotes a rise in the numbers of deaths that come without consent or justification.

Gemmell, who lost her mother after she took her own life without alerting any of her family members for fear of implicating them legally, said she had a friend who planned to end their own life at the Dutch assisted dying centre Dignitas, and cited the requirements needed to be granted the right to die.

"In terms of checks and balances with the situation in the Netherlands and Belgium and America, there are extraordinary hoops you have to leap through to actually be accepted into a euthanasia program," she said.

"I know if we had something like this in Victoria, in a couple of months, we may get some good news about this situation."

Sommerville subsequently took issue with Gemmel's claim that euthanasia "is all fine and working well and there's no problems" in the Netherlands, telling the author, "that's simply not correct".

"There's 1.7 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands [that] are actually done without any consent or knowledge of the person who is given a lethal injection," Sommerville said.

Gemmel responded: "Lethal injection. Really? The various enormous checks and balances? My friend has to even provide dental records because of fear of impostors at the moment. It is very, very rigourous."

Euthanasia remains a contentious issue throughout the country, with individuals still being able to face charges in some states if they become implicated in a person's plans to take their own life.

While nothing is certain yet, political steps have been made to reform assisted dying laws in Australia after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced plans in December to introduce a bill to State Parliament in the second half of 2017, according to The Age.

Victorian MPs will be given a conscience vote on the matter as part of the bill, and if passed, the state would be the first in Australia to legalise euthanasia since laws in the Northern Territory were overturned by the Federal Government in the 1990s.

The change, which could act as a strong precedent for other states, would only be available to adult Victorian residents with a decision-making capacity who are at the end of their lives and suffering from a terminal illness and would allow them to be helped to die.

It would also be likely to require two doctors to sign off on any plan that would involve the prescription of a lethal tablet with those who are physically unable to take a tablet to be assisted by a doctor.

Steps have also been taken towards legalising assisted dying laws in New South Wales with a cross-party working group currently in the works to introduce a bill into State Parliament that would see MPs debate issues around euthanasia in the second half of 2017, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

As part of that bill, which could see terminally ill individuals over the age of 18 with the capacity to give consent to two doctors, all NSW MPs would be granted a conscience vote on the matter.

In a statement released in January, the working group said: "Law reform on the issue of assisted dying is necessary.

"The prolonging of pain, suffering, and distress, for both the terminally ill and their families, is not necessary," the statement read.

"The fundamental principle behind the call for legislating to allow for assisted dying is to provide dignity to people who wish to pass peacefully and on their own terms."

More On This Topic