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Australian quadriplegic wins right to die

Sat., Aug. 15, 2009

Nursing home in Perth ordered to honor man’s wish

CANBERRA, Australia – Christian Rossiter has proven his legal right to die and declared himself a champion of other quadriplegics who no longer find life worth living.

An Australian state Supreme Court ruled Friday that a nursing home in the west coast city of Perth must respect the 49-year-old patient’s decision to starve to death.

His case adds to international arguments among euthanasia advocates, religious groups, lawyers and ethicists about where the state’s duty to preserve life ends.

“I’m happy that I won my right to die,” the former stockbroker and mountaineer told reporters from his nursing home bed where he is fed by a tube.

Rossiter claimed an Australian legal precedent, saying now “similar quadriplegics can choose whether they want to live.”

The case in Western Australia state sheds light on a gray area in Australian law: Patients have a right to refuse lifesaving treatment, but helping another to commit suicide is a crime punishable by life in prison.

The nursing home sought a court ruling on its legal culpability before agreeing to Rossiter’s repeated requests to stop feeding him.

In court, the judge said Rossiter, who broke his spine in 2004 in a road accident and was left a spastic quadriplegic after a fall last year, clearly had a right to direct – and refuse – his treatment.

Food and fluid “should not be administered against his wishes,” but medical staff must fully inform Rossiter of the consequences, Martin said.

After the ruling, Rossiter said he would take further medical advice before refusing food and water.

“There’s a possibility I could still be dissuaded,” he told reporters.

Rossiter appeared in court Friday in a reclining wheelchair with a tracheotomy tube fitted in his throat to allow him to breathe. He was accompanied by a nurse.


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