March 3rd 2007

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: John Howard's election year dilemma

EDITORIAL: Climate change: time for a reality check

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Water and ethanol - time to think big

WATER: Who will stand up for states' rights?

RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM: Sabotage and piracy on the high seas

CHINA: 'Bloody Harvest' - organ-harvesting latest

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Ecclesiastical charades / Rudd's credibility / Victoria's new Second Chamber / Putin's way

SPECIAL FEATURE: New light on Bob Santamaria

EUTHANASIA: Male suicide rise linked to euthanasia debate

OPINION: Dangers of a 'same-sex' register

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: South Korean-US relations under strain

OPINION: Climate change - hot air, big bucks, cold facts

Truth not always a defence (letter)

How Rudd could beat Coalition (letter)

The bushfire crisis (letter)

U.S. Presidential candidates (letter)

Government subsidies and health hazards (letter)

OBITUARY: Vale Charles Coffey (1906-2007)

CINEMA: Heart-warming rags-to-riches story - The Pursuit of Happyness

BOOKS: DUMBING DOWN, by Kevin Donnelly

BOOKS: DOWN TO THIS: A Year Living with the Homeless

Books promotion page

Male suicide rise linked to euthanasia debate

by John Morrissey

News Weekly, March 3, 2007
Suicides are likely to surge again in Australia if Parliament embarks on another euthanasia debate, warns John Morrissey.

Young Australian men in their prime commit suicide at the rate of nearly 400 per year. In 1997, when the Federal Parliament held a conscience vote on the contentious issue of the Northern Territory's euthanasia legislation, suicide peaked among Australia's 20-24 male population, reaching 40 per 100,000, which is nearly twice the current rate.

As with copy-cat behaviour, merely drawing attention to the supposed right to take one's own life has only encouraged the practice.
Dr. Philip Nitschke

Although Australia's so-called "Dr Death", Philip Nitschke, and his supporters would have us believe that there is a groundswell of public demand for medically-assisted suicide to be legalised, nothing has changed.

We had the debate 10 years ago. Nitschke and his cohorts are marking March 26 as a national day of shame, when parliamentarians voted to overturn the NT's legislation to allow doctors to facilitate suicide for the so-called terminally ill.

Treatable depression

It was not enough that the Territory offered insufficient palliative care treatment; it also transpired that some of Dr Nitschke's subjects were not even suffering from a terminal illness but from treatable depression.

The parliament also heard that overseas experience, in the Netherlands especially, suggested that in many cases the requests for euthanasia were not voluntary, but initiated by families or even medical staff.

After a sprinkling of letters and articles in the daily press in late 2006, the campaign for what is now styled as "the rights of the terminally ill" began in earnest in January with the medically-assisted suicide in Switzerland of Dr John Elliott, aged 79 and suffering from myeloma cancer.

He was not close to death but wished to "be free from" old age, pain and suffering, and for his family to remember him as he was then and not at the end of a long illness.

Dr Nitschke and other members of Exit International — formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Research Foundation — accompanied him and his wife from Australia to the Swiss clinic where he took a lethal dose of what is known here as Mexican Veterinary Nembutal.

The campaign also scored a success when the Office of Film and Literature Classification granted a Restricted Class 1 classification to a suicide handbook, The Peaceful Pill, which survived an appeal by the Right to Life Association and the opposition of the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.

The OFLC has cleared the way for this publication, which originated in the United States, to be printed and distributed by the pro-euthanasia lobby Exit International (of which Philip Nitschke is director) and its allied organisations, Dignitas and Civil Liberties Australia. Like similar material on the internet, which cries out for effective filtering for the protection of the vulnerable, The Peaceful Pill can only encourage the practice of suicide in the general community.

As part of this orchestrated campaign, Tasmanian Greens' Senator Bob Brown has tabled an "Australian Territories Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill 2007", which would of course apply only to the NT and the Australian Capital Territory but, if passed, would act as a precedent for the states.

It purports to — but in fact fails to — address the concerns which prompted the Federal Parliament in 1997 to overturn the original NT legislation.

Brown's bill requires a psychiatric report on those making requests and full information about palliative care alternatives, but leaves to the patient the final judgement about what level of pain and discomfort is bearable.

Furthermore, it appears to exclude any interested party from the decision or being the agent concerning the request. However, it does not protect the patient from the none-too-subtle pressure to put other people (family and carers) out of the misery of that patient continuing to live.

Being made to feel one is a burden constitutes very powerful pressure indeed.

Critical also is that legalising medically-assisted suicide compromises doctors and nurses in the same way that legal abortion does, by coercing them into becoming killers rather than healers or punishing them professionally if they do not conform.

It is no accident that the word "rights" has replaced euthanasia or even the earlier slogan of "dying with dignity". It is the rights culture — often rights without responsibility — which has emboldened the peddlers of this death-wish to chance their hands again.

To assert human autonomy as an absolute — shorn of the constraints of what are dismissed as outmoded religious beliefs — may have a superficial populist appeal. However, conveniently overlooked is classical liberalism's stipulation that personal freedom should always be balanced by considering the interests of others.

— John Morrissey.

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