Women at greater risk

A live-in carer has highlighted two key risks of the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide: the attractiveness of extending the regime to those who are “tired of life” and the heightened risk of euthanasia for women.

In an opinion piece for the Big Smoke Australia, writer Claire Harris describes her years as a live-in carer:

I worked as a live-in carer in England on and off for several years and most of my clients were widowed women.


Statistically, women live longer: one of my grandmothers outlived her husband by a decade, the other by more than two. Although the life expectancy in Australia is 81 for men and close to 85 for women, if you actually reach that age you can expect to live for almost another decade (because people who die young lower the average).

In the brief introduction to her piece, Harris brings out the what women’s advocacy group, Women’s Forum Australia has described as the “gendered risks” of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Research conducted by Women’s Forum Australia found that because women are likely to live longer than men, outlive their husbands and have fewer financial resources at the end of life, they are at heightened risk under a euthanasia regime.  These factors, which are risk factors when it comes to their vulnerability to elder abuse and neglect, loneliness and homelessness and fewer care options, were among many other gendered risks for women in jurisdictions allowing euthanasia. 

Leaving the issue of women specifically aside, Harris goes on to write about the plight of those who reach a very old age, and raises (but does not propose to answer) the question of whether euthanasia should be available for those who are simply ‘tired of life’:

A close relative reached the grand old age of 96 and was in good physical and mental health—she was “lucky” in that she stayed in her own home until the very end of her life. But for at least the last five years, she didn’t want to be around anymore. She was not terminally ill, but she was tired. She was done. “Every day I wake up and wonder why I’m still here,” she told me. “I don’t know how I got to be this age.”

I heard similar sentiments expressed by clients I cared for. 

In 2019, euthanasia became legal in Victoria—the first state in Australia to do so. It is available only to people with a terminal illness who are in unbearable pain. I believe it is an important first step to ensuring dignity and comfort around death.

I realise the implications of stating that old age is a terminal illness or that pain is not just physical. After all, if old age is terminal, then so is life.

She concludes by saying it is the elderly who should be leading the conversation on eligibility. 

Euthanasia advocates try to limit the conversation about legalisation to people with terminal illnesses and with a very short prognosis, but we know that inevitably, the eligibility criteria are expanded.  

We see this in other jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legalised and, in Harris’ piece, we also see that those with good intentions and a history of care can show an openness to the idea that euthanasia regimes be extended beyond the terminally, or even the chronically, ill.