Last week’s inaugural semester two Honi Soit featured, among other things, a rather interesting piece by our very own SRC Vice-president Tom Raue, which announced the decision of the SRC to support voluntary euthanasia as a fundamental human right, and then outlined the Council’s reasoning.
As President of LifeChoice Sydney, I applaud any student discussion on the issue of human euthanasia, even as expressed somewhat crudely by Raue, who described ethical objections to euthanasia as sucky and “bullshit”. Though the VP and I might disagree fundamentally on this issue, as someone committed to diverse and rigorous student discourse, this is welcomed coverage.
It is therefore disconcerting that in the same column, Raue would use the legitimacy of the SRC to squash further discussion by censuring LifeChoice’s members for their views on euthanasia, all the while imposing his own personal morality on the student body.
This is questionable for the obvious reason that euthanasia is currently illegal in New South Wales and across most of the world. While here at LifeChoice we don’t believe ethics are decided by simple majority, it should nonetheless be taken into account before one starts hysterically singling a USU club out as an enemy of human rights. By all means, argue for voluntary euthanasia. Just don’t be shocked if people disagree with you.
The fact remains that human euthanasia is a very complex bioethical issue, encompassing political-legal, cultural, medical, and ethical concerns. It is also contested internationally. In January this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a Resolution stating that “euthanasia must always be prohibited.” In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights asserted that there is no right to euthanasia or assisted suicide. To date there is not a single human rights institution which holds euthanasia to be a human right.
This would suggest that the SRC is severely overreaching its competence in making its recent declaration in support of euthanasia. It’s probably the only legislature in the world which describes the issue in such terms.
Commitment to such a definitive position, particularly one which is at odds with mainstream Australians, certainly deserves caution and substantially more consideration than a single council meeting.
Raue’s own defence of voluntary euthanasia brings into question our conception of morality, the termination of human persons, and human rights. This is admirable and will undoubtedly provoke excellent discussion. But as Peter Singer, A.C., recently said of free speech and LifeChoice’s position on campus, “A university… should be a place where ideas are able to be freely expressed. Students should be challenged to defend the ideas they take for granted.”
Students should be able to discuss complex ethical issues like euthanasia, rigorously and respectfully, without having to worry about dogmatic prescriptions from the SRC or Tom Raue. Otherwise, Raue & co will likely only delegitimize themselves from future discussion.
Rebecca Elias is President of LifeChoice Sydney, which is holding its first public meeting on Thursday, August 9 at 5PM, with a lecture by Geriatrician Dr. John Obeid on the topic of euthanasia. An edited version of this article was published in Honi Soit (August 7). For the online version, go to honisoit.com.