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March 7, 2017

Why Euthanasia is a Feminist Issue

For many years now I’ve mulled on the idea that euthanasia – a good death – is a feminist issue.

In some ways I came to the cause of end of life choices through feminism.

Indeed, my very first letter to the editor when I was 20 was about abortion rights. I was upset that conservative commentator Greg Sheridan of The Australian newspaper was so anti-choice and so willing to tell the women of Australia what they should / should not do with their bodies.

Sheridan’s paternalism was insufferable. The patriarchy that gave him a right to put his regressive and repressive thoughts in print was unjust.

It is an irony perhaps that this guy set me on a path for a career in opinion editorial writing (I would later become a regular contributor to Murdoch’s Australian until in the early 2000s the paper took an even sharper turn to the right and I was dissed as collateral damage).

But back to International Womens’ Day 2017 and why euthanasia is a feminist issue.

To say that something is a feminist issue is to argue that it affects half the world’s population in different and unique ways. And often those ways are inequitable, unfair and downright wrong. More often than not those ways demand something special in recognition and action.

So why is Euthanasia a Feminist Issue?

My dot point list goes like this (and it is a work in progress):

Women are caregivers – this means they are more likely to be the ones close to, and intricately involved in the care of, ageing or ill parents or spouses. And if that loved one decides to exit early, it is almost inevitable that the woman will be implicated in the decision-making.

The decision of a loved one to end their suffering – from illness or old age – will likely mean that the wife, daughter, mother or sister will be involved. Should the death not go according to plan, should the law become involved, it is the woman can be the one left holding the legal can. She is the one who could be prosecuted for assisting.

Protecting women (and men) from the law in the event of an ‘assisted’ suicide makes euthanasia a feminist issue.

Women live longer than men – as the ones left behind, it is women who will likely find themselves without their spouse. It is women who will find themselves living out their old age in a way never envisaged. Perhaps in a state or grief and loneliness for which there is no cure.

And it will be women who are faced with having to make their own end of life decisions unsupported by the person who was closest to them for all those years.

This is why euthanasia is a feminist issue.

Women have long had to exert control – over their bodies and their lives – historically in the face of a hostile medical profession. Self-determination makes the act of planning for one’s own death just one more decision in a life-time of decision-making against societal forces that often think they know best.

Control over one’s life and death is fundamental. A woman’s body is a historical battleground for society: not only in terms of reproduction but in terms of what makes a woman a lady. What makes a woman respectable and valued in the eyes of society. How femininity is valued and rewarded (or not, as the case is also often).

Control over when and how one dies is a feminist issue.

Can it be said that women are more likely to be organised than men when it comes to the logistics of life planning. This claim is contentious. However what I have seen in my 15 years at Exit is that the women who come to our meetings (often on their own or with friends) are organised. Sometimes they are hyper-organised.

These women often have come to Exit through the second wave women’s movement of the 1970s. They know activism. Many have needed to battle before. The sentiment of ‘get your rosaries off my ovaries’ tells of a willingness to oust state control from the personal sphere.

This is why euthanasia is a feminist issue.

And so on this International Womens’ Day 2017 on 8 March, those of us who operate this website and who make the publication of the Peaceful Pill Handbook series possible are pronouncing our feminism loud and proud.

The website and the forums will remain open (there is no backup staff for us to do otherwise).

We welcome discussion of this blog in the forums.

Happy International Womens Day to you all.

Dr Fiona Stewart