News | Opinion
Dieter Harck has one simple desire – he wants to die. But, because of the law and what society expects of people, and medical professionals, he is not being allowed to die in his own time and in his own way.
He doesn’t want to commit suicide in the accepted sense, he just wants to be released from the pain and suffering of the terminal stages of motor neurone disease.
The 71 year old – along with palliative care specialist Dr Suzanne Walter – have been testifying this week at a hearing of a special commission in support of their legal challenge to existing laws which effectively prohibit “assisted dying”.
The two – Walter also has a terminal disease – want the law changed to give effect to their rights to self-determination and allow for both physician-assisted suicide – in which a doctor gives a patient a lethal dose of medication to administer by him or herself – and physician-assisted euthanasia in which the doctor administers the medication for his or her patient.
In the interim, they also want the courts to declare that any sound-minded, terminally ill person can approach them for a court order for assisted death. And they want such an order for themselves.
The issue is an emotive one in a country which regards those who are involved in causing a death as culpable – whether through negligence, recklessness or direct intent.
In the last case, this is regarded as murder with actual intent.
Our laws do not, however, take account of the suffering – often long drawn out – that terminally ill people go through. And mercy is not part of our legal system.
Provided there is a strong process of checks and balances, why should a gravely ill person not be allowed to make their last decision of how and when they die?
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