July 21st 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The fifth battle domain - cyberspace

EDITORIAL: Democracy triumphs in East Timor

NATIONAL SECURITY: Terrorist risk is fast approaching critical

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Security nightmare for Australian authorities

HOUSING: Home ownership: the unattainable dream?

NATIONAL CENSUS: Making sense of the Census

MEDICAL SCIENCE: Cloning - dead as the Dodo?

VICTORIA: Medical suicide campaign gets underway

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The gangs of Melbourne / Global yawning / Still looking for Dreyfus / Victimhood / A ship without a rudder

TAIWAN: Divisive politics alienate Taiwanese

OPINION: Left-wing bid to discredit our Anzac tradition

POPULAR CULTURE: Video games overtaking movies and music

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Why do we dress children like miniature adults?

Science and the academic left (letter)

The Net and I (letter)

Swedish film defended (letter)

Terrorist doctor-killers? (letter)

CINEMA: Triumphing against all the odds - Amazing Grace


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Medical suicide campaign gets underway

by David Perrin

News Weekly, July 21, 2007
The legalisation of medical suicide reduces the demand for better medical techniques, because it makes available the easy way out, warns David Perrin.

Two Victorian backbench members of parliament have announced that they will introduce a private member's bill to legalise medical suicide.

As with the federal parliamentary votes on legislating for the RU-486 abortion pill, cloning and embryo experimentation, the Victorian MPs' proposed bill crosses party lines.

Victorian lower house MPs Ken Smith (Liberal) and Maxine Morand (Labor) are jointly proposing to legalise medical suicide.

Neither MP saw fit to disclose their secret intentions before the recent Victorian state elections, therefore keeping the wider community in the dark. Nor do they propose to allow the wider community to debate the matter.

The medical suicide bill is likely to have the support of Victorian Liberal Opposition leader, Ted Baillieu, who is a well-known supporter of medical suicide. However, Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks may oppose it.


Ken Smith, in a recent speech to a Dying With Dignity Victoria rally, supported the Northern Territory suicide legislation that was overturned by the Federal Parliament in 2003.

In his speech, he fobbed off the benefits of palliative care for dying patients, and used emotional arguments for patient autonomy as his principle justification for legalised suicide.

As with other controversial and far-reaching social issues, such as the Northern Territory suicide legislation and recent federal legislation for the abortion pill and embryo experimentation, emotion triumphed over reason.

Smith and Morand fail to understand that legalising medical suicide is sending the wrong message to the wider community.

By saying that suicide is okay, this opens the door for those susceptible to suicide.

While the two MPs claim that the scope of any suicide legalisation would be limited, as adults they have a duty to discourage those prone to suicide from taking their own lives, not seek to legitimise suicide and increase its incidence.

The Economist magazine recently estimated that one million people around the world committed suicide annually, and that those suicides had increased by 60 per cent over the last 45 years. These figures of course are only for officially recorded suicides, not for other that may not have been recorded.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide accounts for nearly 20 per cent of deaths of teenage males aged 15 to 19, and 13 per cent of females in the same age group. For young males aged 20 to 24, suicide is even higher at 26 per cent with females at nearly 12 per cent.

Significantly, doctors' groups throughout the world do not support medical suicide, because they know it puts more pressure on them when requests are made by suicidal patients. Doctors admit they can resist this pressure only when medical suicide remains illegal.

Those who advocate medical suicide should instead support the medical profession in improving its skills to relieve patients' symptoms that make them want to take their own lives.

Suicide advocates fob off medical advances that have led to pain relief and palliative care.

Since the last debate on medical suicide in Australia, palliative care has advanced substantially, with dying patients now given extensive physical, psychological and spiritual support during distressing illnesses.

Medical staff are better trained than in the past, and they need the community to support them in improving their skills to develop even further.

Medical professionals know that patients' perception of them is critical in their relationship. When professionals move from caring to killing, this leads patients to avoid requesting care and assistance when they are needed.

The debate over doctors becoming killers is heated in countries where capital punishment is carried out by doctors giving lethal injections to condemned prisoners. Medical professional groups are conscious of their image being tarnished by the killer image.

The introduction of medical suicide reduces the demand for better medical techniques, because it makes available the easy way out.

Where are the advocates for more funding for palliative care and better medical training? Could politicians, such as Smith, Morand and Baillieu, not change their minds and campaign for less suicide and better medical care for vulnerable people? Could they not take the lead?

There are too many suicides in Australia. The lesson to be learnt from overseas is that suicide advocacy leads to more suicide in the wider community.

Teenagers mimic adults, so when adults promote suicide, our young get the wrong message.

Victoria has a history of suicides, most of them hidden by the media so as not to cause concern in the wider community. Ask the police, emergency service personnel, ambulance officers and train-drivers - they know the real story.

- David Perrin is national president of the Australian Family Association, and a former Victorian state MP.

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