Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law

By Margaret Otlowski | Go to book overview
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8
Options For Reform

INTRODUCTION

Whilst there is strong support for reform of the law as borne out by recent public opinion polls1 and polls conducted amongst the medical profession,2 there is less certainty or agreement about the exact direction any reform of the law should take. In earlier chapters, it has been suggested that there are various problems with the present law which call for a reassessment of the present legal prohibition of active voluntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.3 Consideration must now be given to possible legal responses to these difficulties to determine whether legislative reform is called for, and if so, what form it should take. Quite a number of reform options have been advanced over the years, and, as we have seen, legislation has been passed in the Northern Territory of Australia legalizing both active voluntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. In addition, in the US State of Oregon an Act permitting doctor-assisted suicide has been passed, although this has subsequently been challenged on constitutional grounds.4 The object of this chapter is to examine the various possible models for change and their respective merits and shortcomings, with a view to ascertaining the most appropriate model for reform.

Before embarking on consideration of possible reforms, consideration needs to be given to one suggestion which has been made, but which does not in fact represent an option for change, namely that the most appropriate solution is to do nothing at all. This was, for example, the approach favoured by the Canadian Law Reform Commission in its review of the law with regard to active voluntary euthanasia.5 The commission was of the view that the present criminal law prohibition of active voluntary euthanasia should be retained, but that the strictness of the law should continue to be ameliorated in individual cases through the internal mechanisms of the criminal justice system. This approach is said to have the advantage of recognizing the appropriateness of active voluntary euthanasia in individual cases, yet avoiding the dangers and difficulties in drafting legislation to

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1
See pp. 257-68 above.
2
See pp. 292-332 above.
3
See, in particular, Ch. 3.
4
For discussion of these developments see pp. 345-57, 369-73 above.
5
Law Reform Commission of Canada, Working Paper No. 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and the Cessation of Treatment ( Ottawa, 1982) 51-2; Law Reform Commission of Canada, Report No. 20, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and the Cessation of Treatment ( Ottawa, 1983) 19- 20.

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