September 15th 2012

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Articles from this issue:

LEGAL AFFAIRS: No place for Sharia law in Australia

EDITORIAL: Gillard's flawed plan to fix our schools

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor promises grandiose schemes it can't deliver

ENVIRONMENT: Is the Arctic sea ice in "a death spiral"

BANKING: Big four banks overdue for a shake-up

MARRIAGE: State push for same-sex unions could trap Nicola Roxon

TASMANIA: Euthanasia: the ultimate in elder abuse

SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE: New light shed on Russia's "other" spy agency

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Justice Mason's role in the 1975 Whitlam dismissal

SCHOOLS: Constant practice needed to acquire basic skills

SOCIETY: Plans for World Congress of Families in Sydney next May

OPINION: Immigrants: a compassionate alternative


CINEMA: Futuristic sci-fi action set after global war

BOOK REVIEW Scholarly tour de force

BOOK REVIEW The impact of the sexual revolution

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Euthanasia: the ultimate in elder abuse

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, September 15, 2012

The Tasmanian Government has set up a helpline to prevent abuse of the elderly, while the Premier, Lara Gidding, has championed euthanasia legislation — the ultimate in elder abuse.

The helpline is set against a background where, as a media release observes: “It is estimated up to 4,200 older Tasmanians suffer physical, emotional verbal or financial abuse at the hands of someone close to them. This is only set to increase statistically as Tasmania moves towards a peak population cohort of over-65s in 2021, totalling one in four Tasmanians.”

The island-state’s Department of Health and Human Services document, Protecting Older Tasmanians from Abuse, describes elder abuse in these terms:

• Abuse of older people is a single or repeated act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust, which causes harm to an older person.

• Abuse of older people can include physical, psychological/emotional, financial, sexual and social abuse as well as intentional or unintentional neglect.

The department adds: “Abuse of older Tasmanians is a violation of their human rights and a rejection of the fundamental respect that our older people deserve.

“Older Tasmanians deserve dignity and to feel secure and safe. Preventing abuse is a community responsibility and requires all sectors of society to actively address its causes and reduce its harmful effects.”

Indeed. To remain true to such an important and worthwhile objective, the Tasmanian government cannot proceed with creating euthanasia and assisted suicide law.

Legalised euthanasia would facilitate situations in which a person of trust — such as a medical professional or a relative — could persuade a vulnerable elderly person to agree that his or her life was not worth living.

The likelihood that such abuse would remain hidden (just as elder abuse in any form is hard to detect and act upon) is made all the more concerning because the only witness would be deceased. Who would ever know? It should never be the role of government to make crime easy and detection unlikely.

Indeed, whether or not this — the ultimate in elder abuse — would be widespread, occasional or only rare, the possibility cannot be dismissed.

We cannot, as some would suggest, only base decisions on empirical evidence. That would require us to legislate and then monitor the results. The ultimate problem, however, is that some — and perhaps many — people would lose their lives to prove the point.

Knowing what we do about human nature and the prevalence of elder abuse, not to mention financial incentives family members might have for the early demise of an elderly or sick relative, we have every reason to doubt the promised benefits of euthanasia legislation. The precautionary principle must apply here.

The Tasmanian Premier needs to rethink her commitment to euthanasia legislation and make protecting ageing Tasmanians her priority.

Paul Russell is director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.

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