EUTHANASIA: by Kath Woolf and Babette FrancisNews Weekly
Bob Brown's plan to introduce euthanasia via the ACT
, July 23, 2011
Australian territories should be able to legalise euthanasia, according to Greens Senator Bob Brown.
Senator Brown has been seeking to restore the power of territories to legalise euthanasia by a number of bills he has moved, ever since the Northern Territoryeuthanasia legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 was repealed by the Commonwealth Euthanasia Laws Act 1997.
His latest effort is the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia) Bill 2010. If this bill is passed, there is no doubt that there will be a further bill approving euthanasia presented in theAustralian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly.
The ACT Government is a coalition of seven Labor plus four Green members of the assembly. The policy platform of both the ACT branch of the ALP and of the Greens includes legalising euthanasia. There are only six members of the Liberal Opposition.
Senator Brown has yet another bill before federal parliament: the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010 (the “Territories Bill”), which would remove the Federal Government’s ability to quash territory laws through executive action, that is, the Governor-General acting on the advice of the Government.
This would mean that to quash a territory law, which, for example, legalised euthanasia or same-sex civil unions, a bill would need to be approved by both houses of federal parliament. Brown is confident that this would never succeed as the Greens since July 1 this year have nine senators holding the balance of power in the Senate.
As has been demonstrated in Belgiumand Holland, the practice of euthanasia too easily spreads from requiring a person’s permission to be killed to that “choice” being assumed in instances of those unable to make it for themselves. It is reported that one third of “euthanasia” deaths in Belgium have occurred without the person’s permission. Similar statistics are recorded in Holland.
Further, there rapidly follow calls that persons eligible for euthanasia should include the handicapped and the mentally disturbed. Again, this can be observed by developments in Belgiumand Holland. As our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has warned, it is almost impossible to construct legislative safeguards to restrict the killing to the circumstances the legislators originally intended.
It is also the case that unassisted suicide is not illegal in Australia. Nonetheless it ought to be discouraged, as it particularly affects the disadvantaged and many suffering from mental illness. Legislating the deliberate killing of persons runs counter to federal government initiatives to reduce the suicide rate. Certainly, it is not wise to make killers of our doctors, whose brief is to save life where reasonably possible.
Pro-euthanasia bills have been defeated in South Australia and Western Australiain the last few years, but only after great lobbying efforts.
There are more such bills still waiting for presentation to the parliaments in Tasmania,New South Wales and South Australia. If Bob Brown succeeds with his bills, it will be virtually impossible to defeat a pro-euthanasia bill in the ACT. If euthanasia comes to the national capital, it will disastrously affect the outcome of the struggle in all jurisdictions in Australian.
In all probability it will be the “wedge in the door” facilitating the passage of similar legislation in other states. People will travel to the ACT to be euthanased, just as in Europe they travel to Dignitas in Switzerland. It would be most unfortunate if the ACT were to become the “death capital” of Australia; this would disgrace our national capital.
Senator Brown’s interest in so-called territory “rights” is not sincere. He is only interested in clearing the way for the passage of euthanasia laws in the place most likely to legalise euthanasia, the Australian Capital Territory. If his bills for the territories pass, Greens senators will there after block any federal parliamentary attempts to quash territory pro-euthanasia laws.
When euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territoryfor a brief time in 1996-97, the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet reported that fatigue, fragility and depression caused more suffering to patients than any pain from their condition. NT patients were offered no treatment for their depression and all applicants were approved for lethal injection.
There is a high correlation between depression and suicide. Some 7 to 14 per cent of adolescents will self-harm at some time, and up to 45 per cent of older adolescents report having suicidal thoughts.
Government and many non-government agencies work hard to prevent suicide. It is dangerous to make assisted suicide legal. Instead, assistance to cope with life is what is needed for the suicidal.
The law should not compound the suffering of victims of depressive illness and of their families by encouraging suicide rather than providing the help depressives obviously need.
Those in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide say that a person has a right to choose to die. This “freedom” of course involves medical staff and quickly undermines medical ethics. Making lawful a person’s “choice” to be killed by a doctor will increase pressure on the depressed, the frail, the elderly, the chronically ill and the handicapped to request euthanasia. People in those circumstances often feel they are a burden on relatives and are consuming too much of society’s resources.
American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith in a recent blog (June 30) writes about an ominous development: “The so-called ‘duty to die’ has been quietly discussed in bioethics for more than a decade. Now, a major British Medical Association leader has proposed an implicit duty to die by stating that terminally ill people may have to be denied life-extending treatments due to the costs of their care.”
Under the heading “BMA: Let patients die ‘to save cash’”, The Scotsman (June 26, 2011) reports: “The leader of Scotland’s doctors has questioned whether society can afford to pay thousands of pounds to keep terminally-ill people alive for weeks or months when health service budgets are under unprecedented strain.
“Dr (Brian) Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association Scotland, said in some cases tens of thousands of pounds were spent on drugs to extend cancer patients’ lives for relatively short periods.
“Speaking ahead of his organisation’s annual meeting, the GP said the country had to debate the merits of these kinds of aggressive treatments and the effects they had on the National Health Service (NHS) budget. But he stressed any decision had to be made at a society level, rather than being left to doctors.
“Patient groups are concerned that many cancer treatments are being rationed by the NHS because they are deemed too expensive. While the NHS budget forScotlandrose slightly this year, the increasing cost of energy, food and drugs has meant health boards are having to make efficiency savings just to stand still. In many cases this has included recruitment freezes and a reduction in the NHS workforce of more than3,000 in the past year.
“Keighley said the Scottish Government was facing a ‘budgetary cliff edge’ amid concerns about the negative effect of cuts. But he said there were areas where wider debate was needed to decide if Scotland could still afford to pay for services where good outcomes were limited.
“This included life-extending treatments provided to people at the end of their lives with illnesses such as cancer….
“In Scotland, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) already rules on the cost effectiveness of new drugs using a measure known as quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) — assessing the cost of a treatment against the benefit in terms of patient survival.”
Pressure about the cost of their care and the QALY assessment will serve to further erode the morale of seriously ill patients and their will to live.
Experience with legalised euthanasia in Holland shows that at least 1,000 persons are killed every year without their consent. Three official reports since 1990 state that half of these patients had not discussed euthanasia with a doctor nor expressed a wish to be relieved of suffering. 79 per cent of these patients were mentally incompetent. Another 5,000 patients annually were given terminal sedation without explicit request.
The erosion of medical ethics seems swiftly to follow the legalisation of killing by doctors. The practice too easily spreads from requiring a person’s permission to be killed to that “choice” being assumed in the case of those unable to make it for themselves.
In recent years, the parliaments of Britain,Scotland,France and Canada and a number of American states have rejected legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide. It is to be profoundly hoped that the Australian parliament will do the same by rejecting Senator Bob Brown’s bills.
Mrs Kath Woolf, BA, Dip.Ed, B.Ed, LL.B, is president of the ACT Right to Life Association. Mrs Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons), is national co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.