Australian Chief Justice Wayne Martin ruled Friday that quadriplegic Christian Rossiter has the right to end his life, if he chooses, by starving himself to death. Of all difficult medical-ethical issues, this has to be close to the top. I do not applaud the decision, do not support suicide (though I strongly support the right of a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to hasten his or her own dying) and hope Mr. Rossiter changes his mind. He may well do so now.
A series of injuries combined to make the 49-year-old a spastic quadriplegic last year. Mr Rossiter, once a keen rock climber and adventurer, told the Supreme Court his life was once exciting and enjoyable.
But the reality of his situation is far from that now.
Unable to move other than wiggle one finger or toe, unable to take nourishment except through a feeding tube, Mr. Rossiter asked his caretakers, Brightwater Care Group, dozens of times to remove that tube. They went to the court for an answer, and the answer has now come. But Mr. Rossiter is talking to his doctors and says he may change his mind. Should he stick with the decision to remove the feeding tube he will not, in truth, be “committing suicide;” he will be allowing natural death. (In the U.S. he would qualify for hospice care.) Either way, the choice should be his.
There are no winners or losers in this tragic tale. But there is something heroic in one man’s determination to keep control of his own destiny. I admire his gumption, and wish him well.