How voluntary is “voluntary”?

Michael Cook
BioEdge

Respect for autonomy is one of the most convincing arguments for euthanasia. It was the theme of a strong defence of legalising it in Australia in the Journal of Law and Medicine by Margaret Otlowski and Lorana Bartels in 2010. They concluded that “ in a secular society with an ageing population” legalisation is inevitable.

However, in the latest issue of the JLM a criminologist at the University of Tasmania has made a vigorous response. Jeremy Prichard doubts that many people in the community will be able to give full and voluntary consent to ending their lives. He contends that the growing prevalence of elder abuse suggests that aged people could easily be manipulated.

“Such procedures may be safe for socially connected, financially independent individuals with high autonomy and self-efficacy,” he writes, but “circumstances may be entirely different for isolated patients with low self-efficacy who represent an unwanted burden to their carers, some of whom may benefit financially from the death of the patient (even just in a reduction of financial pressure).”

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