Right to life

The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights. This right is based on the belief that every person has an essential right to live and a right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life. The concept of a right to life is central to human rights, but particularly relevant to the issues of capital punishment, euthanasia, self defence, abortion and war. Internationally, the right to life is enshrined in:

  • Article 3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
  • Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

According to the ICCPR Committee the right to life should not be narrowly interpreted and should include measures taken to reduce infant mortality and to increase life expectancy. The Committee has also expressed concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction which not only threaten life, but deplete valuable resources that could be used to promote and secure human rights, especially in developing countries. The right to life can also be seen as requiring the State to take positive steps to reduce the incidence of such things as domestic violence. In Victoria, the right to life is recognised by section 9 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. However, there is no recognition of this right in federal law. The most important manifestation of the right to life is the prohibition on capital punishment. This prohibition admits of no exceptions. It should be adhered to not just in the cases of Australians convicted abroad of capital offences but also for terrorists who kill Australians abroad. The possibility of errors in the legal process, the importance of mercy in sentencing, the prospects of rehabilitation, and above all the inherent value and dignity of all human life are factors which apply in every case without exception. The absolute and unqualified nature of the right to life should not, however, obscure or confuse the principles applicable to issues like euthanasia and abortion. Euthanasia or dying with dignity involves the decision by a competent person to choose the nature and timing of their own death. Euthanasia is different to suicide in that a person makes a considered and informed decision, after looking at all the options including treatment and alternative care. Suicide is an action taken by people who are not always able to make clear decisions often suffering from conditions such as severe emotional distress, or a psychiatric illness such as depression. Australian law does not distinguish between homicide and euthanasia. While suicide and attempted suicide are no longer crimes, assisting another to do so is and has resulted in a number of high profile prosecutions against people who have assisted terminally ill patients to die. Liberty Victoria supports the right of individuals while competent to choose whether to receive treatment when no longer competent. In particular, Liberty Victoria believes that a competent terminally ill person should be able to choose to die by active intervention either by themselves or with the help of other medically qualified people.