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A minimalist legislative solution to the problem of euthanasia

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In Australia and elsewhere, there has been a continuing, intense debate over many years about whether voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide should be permitted by law.1 Passionate views have been expressed on both sides. While some sections of the community strongly favour the option of assistance to die in some circumstances, others, including the Australian Medical Association and other professional associations, remain implacably opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia in any form.2

In the latest rounds of the debate, a Senate committee has called for a conscience vote when the matter is next presented to the Australian Parliament,3 a view unexpectedly supported by the Prime Minister,4 while the Medical Board of Australia has suspended the medical registration of a prominent euthanasia activist.5 Sadly, despite the frequent, forceful and ongoing expressions of views, little progress appears to have been made, with impassioned calls from one side for the enactment of formal “right to die” legislation being matched by an equally resolute defence by the other of what are regarded as the traditional values and practices of the medical profession.

The issues at stake are undoubtedly deep and important, and it is not hard to understand why many members of…