Death Management and the case of Baby D
3 May 2011
No matter where you stand on end-of-life issues, it is clear a fundamental shift has occurred in the way that we die, writes Associate Professor Cameron Stewart.
In the last 40 years vast improvements in para-medicine and intensive care have meant that most of us will die in institutional settings where we will experience a high level of medical intervention and care.
For the majority of Australians death has become a process rather than an event, and like all processes it needs to be managed carefully. Professor George Smith of the Columbus School of Law has called this the new culture of "death management."
The notion that death has to be managed necessitates that choices be made about when and how we die. In the past, when a serious heart attack, stroke or physical injury meant certain death, we could talk about a "natural death" and use concepts like "acts and omissions" to explain how death occurred in a moral and legal sense.
But in an environment where a person can be kept "alive" after their heart has stopped or where their brain has been destroyed, this language has become strained. The boundaries between hastening death and allowing death to occur are now more blurred.
It is human nature for disagreements to sometimes arise about such choices and ultimately, in our society, such disputes will eventually find their way to our courts.
Some countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, have had a long history of court intervention in disputes about death management. In Australia we have not had that experience. There have been very few cases determined by Australian courts, and up until recently there were none involving children. That has now changed.
Contact: Greg Sherington
Phone: +61 2 9351 0202