Revisiting the euthanasia debate

29 September 2010

To stimulate community debate on euthanasia - an issue reignited by the Greens' proposal to reintroduce enabling legislation for the territories - University of Sydney Professor Simon Chapman is making his book on the issue freely available to the public.

The Last Right? Australians Take Sides on the Right to Die, which Professor Chapman edited with his Sydney School of Public Health colleague Professor Stephen Leeder, has been digitised and published online.

The book was originally published in 1995 after the Northern Territory's Assembly became the first legislature anywhere in the world to pass a bill which allowed doctors to actively assist patients to die.

With the Greens now planning to introduce a private members bill to Parliament to allow the Northern Territory Government to reintroduce its legislation, the issue is again on the public radar.

"I was reminded when the legislation issues started coming up again that the very same arguments that are being used now were being used by both supporters and opposers of the legislation in 1995," explains Professor Chapman.

"It's that old expression, the more things change the more they stay the same," he says. "I think it's a really useful device to have under one cover."

The book, which was published in 1995, tackles the controversial topic of voluntary euthanasia by exploring the opinions of prominent members of the Australian community.

Among the 63 commentators are a diverse range of health professionals, ethicists, legal experts, religious leaders and social commentators, including Michael Kirby, Sir Gustav Nossal, Peter Singer, Bill Hayden, Colleen McCullough, Michael Leunig, Philip Adams and Brendan Nelson.

"It's difficult to imagine any other legislative reform that is so widely supported and yet so widely ignored by parliaments," says Professor Chapman.

He believes that the resonance of the issue of voluntary euthanasia lies in its universality.

"Everybody is going to have to face death, so it's a question that all of us have had to grapple with. You cannot find a person without a view on whether or not they would avail themselves of voluntary euthanasia if it were legal to do so."

Read the The Last Right? Australians Take Sides on the Right to Die, originally published in 1995 by Mandarin Books.

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