EUTHANASIA II: by Paul RussellNews Weekly
How SA's euthanasia bill was defeated
, December 11, 2010
When two solidly anti-euthanasia members of the South Australian Legislative Council retired at the election in March this year, it seemed likely that the state's upper house would become pro-euthanasia on balance for the first time.
With the steady procession of euthanasia bills coming before the state parliament and the intensity of the debate being accelerated by Greens MLC Mark Parnell, the battle to see his latest attempt rejected was always going to be a tall order.
In the past, time has been something of an ally inasmuch as, for many bills, the debate has been drawn out, giving letter-writers and lobbyists plenty of opportunity to make their voices heard. However, with SA's recent second bill, sponsored by Parnell, the limited time for debate on this serious issue caught many by surprise.HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
went live online in October. This was immediately after the visit of Canadian executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Alex Schadenberg, who had been brought out to Australia by Endeavour Forum, Inc., on a speaking tour.HOPE
's work thereupon grew at a brisk pace as did its supporter networks. Its website www.noeuthanasia.org.au
is something of a clearing-house for reasoned argument rather than a mere cataloguing of current research. This approach seems to have broad appeal.
The Parnell euthanasia bill was listed for debate on November 24, but the outcome was anyone's guess as a number of MLCs remained tight-lipped about their voting intentions. As the debate proceeded, however, it became increasingly apparent that the no vote would prevail.
In the upper house debate, stalwart opponents of euthanasia made their voices heard. These included Labor's Bernard Finnigan and Carmel Zollo and the Family First Party's Rob Brokenshire and Dennis Hood.
Newly elected Liberal MLC, Jing Lee, whom HOPE
had listed as an "unknown", spoke eloquently about the dangers of euthanasia and the need for protection for the vulnerable and for more palliative care.
Deputy leader of the Liberal Opposition in the upper house, Michelle Lensink, who had supported the previous Parnell bill in the last parliament, courageously changed her position and opposed the bill on rational grounds. Well-known anti-drugs campaigner and independent MLC, Ann Bressington, who abstained on the last Parnell bill, registered a resounding "no" because of her doubts that the government could ever ensure sufficient safeguards against abuse.
Playing on the minds of legislators must have been Parnell's own amendments to his own bill. He had planned to remove a section on advanced directives and, just before the debate began, he flagged further amendments. Parnell denied this in his closing remarks, but it seemed apparent to many observers that these amendments were designed to swing uncertain MLCs over to the yes side.
As in the recent Western Australian euthanasia debate, the proposed minimalist approach seemed designed simply to ensure passage of the bill; amendments to broaden the bill's scope could always follow later. Parnell repeated his comments from last year on safeguards, acknowledging that no bill would ever be "100 per cent safe" from abuse. This seems little more than reckless indifference considering that a "mistake" is irreversible.
Also entering the debate from stage left and at the 11th hour was SA Health Minister John Hill, who told the media that the Parnell model was "flawed" and "clunky", and that linking euthanasia to palliative care was not the way to go.
It is hard to know how this intervention influenced legislators, but it certainly increased doubts.
Nonetheless, Mr Hill's comments have been a mixed blessing, for he has foreshadowed a draft euthanasia bill of his own. Euthanasia and assisted suicide under his proposal will become a common law exception to the criminal statutes for murder in much the same way that abortion is currently tolerated in South Australia.
It is little more than protection for doctors who administer euthanasia. It would leave the creation and supervision of "safeguards" to the bureaucrats who design the regulations. Those who have followed the history of abortion will recognise that this could easily become "euthanasia on demand", in much the same way that it has become in the Netherlands.
In an unusual move, the Parnell bill was rejected at the second reading - and on the voices only. However, from the speeches it was clear that, had a division been called, the final vote would have been 12 to nine against the bill.
Celebrations afterwards were somewhat muted. There remain three further euthanasia bills to be debated in SA's lower house beginning in earnest in the New Year. The last time a euthanasia bill was voted upon in the House of Assembly was more than a decade ago, and opinions vary widely on what the outcome might be on any or all of those bills.
One thing pro-life activists know is that they cannot rest.Paul Russell is campaign director of HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.