Deadly currents beneath calm waters: Persons with disability and the right to life in australia


Australia has traditionally considered itself to be in the forefront of nations committed to the recognition and respect of human rights, including the right to life of all human beings. Australia has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which codifies the right to life in international law. Australia has also signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which codifies both the right to life, and a related right to survival and development, for all children and young persons. Additionally, Australia is a wealthy country with relatively well-developed health and social security systems, which include a wide range of specialist services targeted specifically to persons with disability and their families. Together, these factors would appear to provide a strong foundation for securing the rights to life and survival of Australians with disability. However, beneath these calm waters lie deadly currents. This essay analyses the degree to which Australians with disability effectively enjoy the right to life, as it is understood in international law. We adopt an expansive understanding of the right to life that views the right to life as far more than an obligation on states to merely prevent and punish arbitrary deprivation of life, as important as this is. Instead, we argue that the right to life requires states to pursue a range of positive legal, social and economic measures to ensure that this right is fully realized, especially in a disability context. We argue that the rights to life and survival for persons with disability cannot be effectively secured without some transformation of traditional understandings of these rights, and we examine the potential for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to effect such a transformation.

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