The Assisted Dying Debate

A public event

July 1, 2015

Audio transcript now available. listen online here!


Dr. Kevin Yuill, Author of Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization

Dr. Jacky Davis, Chair, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying

Assisted Suicide has been making headlines again recently, and legalisation is once again at the forefront of public discourse. Cases such as that of Marie Fleming, who in 2013 lost her Supreme Court appeal to establish a constitutional right to die, and more recently Gail O’Rorke, who was acquitted of assisting her friend’s suicide, prove that the issue is a morally and ethically complex one.

The Assisted Suicide debate may appear to revolve around the simple binary – whether it is a good or a bad thing – but in fact it is attended by questions which go to the heart of what it means to be a bearer of free will, a member of a society, a political subject and ultimately a human being. Advocates for a change in the law argue that to choose the time and manner of one’s death is a powerful assertion of control over destiny. Opponents fear the advent of such a change to the law would remove the thumb from the dyke, and that society would devolve to an implicit endorsement of suicide. From both religious and secular sceptics of assisted dying there is a concern that there would be a fundamental redefinition of the relationship between doctor and patient, underwritten by formal legalities which would impair the flexibility and discretion of these relationships. But it is these selfsame formalities that proponents of assisted dying argue would safeguard patient, family and practitioner, and allow for transparency and accountability.

Is the right to die a logical corollary of the right to choose and by extension of free will itself? Or does seeing suicide this way have negative consequences for how we view life? How should ‘dignity’ be weighed in this question, and does it logically follow that a painful death is undignified? And why has this issue attained such cultural and political currency now?