Euthanasia: A Love Story


Andrew Denton, an Australian comedian, seems quite bewitched by euthanasia. In his most recent article, Granting terminally ill right to die with dignity is good policy (just copy and paste the headline into Google if you hit a paywall), he laments, but in a positive vein, the most recent defeat of euthanasia legislation in the South Australian Parliament. He describes the bill as moderate and narrow in scope, targeting only mentally competent adults suffering from a terminal physical illness with less than 12 months to live according to two independents doctors.

He is quite positive about the defeat because it was so narrow, defeated as it was by a single vote, on the fifteenth occasion a euthanasia bill was considered by the South Australian Parliament and then rejected.

The reasons for its rejection this time varied. Having commended the manner in which both sides debated the issues he laments that many MPs seem to have been too easily swayed by a “campaign of fear and misinformation, propagated by religious groups and also some sections of the medical community”. He provides little evidence of this setting aside his complaint that Family First threatened to preference against those in marginal seats who supported the legislation, and that priests allegedly advised their “congregations” to make their opinions on this matter known to the local MPs. Of the two possible instances, he suggests that it is misleading for some doctors to purportedly claim that terrible pain can be managed with better palliative care, and that it is misleading to describe euthanasia as ‘state-sanctioned killing’. Now, I would be very surprised if these doctors said any such thing as opposed to saying that the vast majority of cases could be dealt with adequately by palliative care, while the small number that cannot can at least be mitigated to some extent. As to the latter criticism, what else is euthanasia apart from ‘state-sanctioned killing’? The effect of the legislation is to legally sanction the deliberate killing of a patient. Denton argues this cannot be the case because these patients were being ‘killed by a disease’ and they were choosing to be killed ‘voluntarily’. Well, no, they would be killed by a deliberate injection delivered by a doctor, not by whatever ails them, and this would be entirely sanctioned by the state; the mere fact that they are terminally ill and voluntarily seek to be killed does nothing to alter the accuracy of the description of euthanasia as ‘state-sanctioned killing’.

Further, he claims that opponents engaged in a ‘narrative of fear’ when arguing that any such legislation would very likely be expanded in scope after its implementation. In this instance, by slowly including more persons as people could no longer justify the restrictions that were now attached to the bill, i.e by extending it to persons that are not terminally ill, or to persons that have a mental illness, or below the age of majority, and the like. Now, opponents are in fact quite right to raise these fears given the trajectory of euthanasia legislation in Belgium and the Netherlands, for instance, precisely because this is what occurred in these legal jurisdictions. And even if we set aside this practical matter, Denton cannot actually provide any in-principle objection to such a widening of the scope of euthanasia legislation in the future because the rationale/s provided now cannot exclude it.

Picture: Hypnos and Thanatos: Sleep and His Half-Brother Death (1874), by John William Waterhouse.


  1. Not Trampis

    excellent article

  2. Real Deal

    Thnks for this great analysis of the SA bill and what Denton says.


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