Deborah Zion reviews 'Time to Die' by Rodney Syme

Deborah Zion reviews 'Time to Die' by Rodney Syme

Time to Die

by Rodney Syme

Melbourne University Publishing $32.99 pb, 204 pp, 9780522870930

Deborah Zion

Deborah Zion

Associate Professor Deborah Zion has taught medical ethics for many years. She is currently the Chair of the Human Research Ethics

...

Ethicist, physician, and writer Eric Cassell has remarked that it is troubling that patients and laypersons consider the relief of suffering to be one of the primary ends of medicine, yet the medical profession neglects it. It is even more disturbing given that we are on a daily basis confronted with images of war, pain, and displacement. Rodney Syme’s book about ending life brings issues relating to suffering close to home. It reminds us about this facet of the human condition, even for those who have, for the most part, led tranquil lives. Increased longevity often entails a difficult expiration. Many of us will die slowly – perhaps of cancer or organ failure – or without dignity, as dementia robs us of what makes us human.

In Time to Die, the suffering and indignity of chronic illness, or a protracted death, are described, and the standard arguments against assistance in ending life, such as the efficacy of palliative care, are examined in great detail. True to the biblical title, Syme returns us to a more holistic view of the life cycle. He challenges the medical and legal imperative to extend life at all costs. In so doing, he asks us to consider what makes for a fully human life, even in the midst of suffering.

Unlike countries such as Canada, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, assisting death – that is, prescribing or administering drugs to end life – is illegal in all parts of Australia. It was not always thus. Between 1995 and 1996, The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act in the Northern Territory ensured that one could receive assistance to die. The Howard government’s reversal of this act in 1997 once again left many with few choices other than painful and often grotesquely ineffective ways of suicide.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are already a subscriber, click here, or on the ‘Log In’ tab in the top right hand corner of the screen, and enter your username and password to log in. If you have logged in but are still seeing this message your subscription to ABR Online may have expired. Please contact us or click here to renew your subscription to ABR Online. More information about ABR Online can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in April 2017, no. 390

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.