LIFE ISSUES: by Paul RussellNews Weekly
Darkening skies: euthanasia fronts in 2013
, February 2, 2013
The closing months of 2012 saw a massive media barrage from various pro-euthanasia sources, particularly in the eastern states. The intensity and frequency of calls across the media for voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide, ranging from personal testimonies to the latest polling results, cannot have been accidental.
Those pushing for change are nothing if not well organised. But why did they embark on such a major push towards the year’s end when the holiday season creates a natural lull in the discussion of most things political?
The commencement of the 2013 parliamentary year, both federally and in the states, holds the key to understanding their timing.
Two bills already introduced are scheduled for serious debate early this year with the promise also of a discussion paper and bill in Tasmania and another bill pending in New South Wales. Western Australia may also see yet another attempt once parliament resumes after the state’s March election.
In the Senate, debate will resume on Greens health spokesman Senator Richard Di Natale’s Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2012, a bill identical to an earlier unresolved version moved by former federal Greens leader Dr Bob Brown.
The current bill seeks to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which overturned the NT’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act and, into the bargain, removed the ability of the three Australian territories with limited self-government to legalise euthanasia.
Changes in personnel in the Senate (since the half-Senate election held during the last federal election) would appear to have increased the likely support for this bill. Time will tell whether or not senators and the major parties are comfortable with allowing a full debate on this contentious issue in an election year.
In South Australia, the Weatherill Labor government’s Advance Care Directives Bill 2012 passed through the parliamentary lower house with unseemly haste and virtually no scrutiny late last year.
Described by its critics as a “euthanasia Trojan Horse”, this bill raises the possibility of acts of euthanasia and assisted suicide being performed, in some circumstances under binding directives from a patient and/or his or her advocate. There are further significant problems with the bill that will radically affect the medical community.
It remains to be seen whether or not South Australia’s upper house, when it commences sitting in February, will scrutinise the bill properly and expose its hidden agenda.
As it is a government bill, Labor MPs will be unable to vote according to their consciences; instead they will be required to vote on party lines.
It is one thing for private members to support and promote euthanasia bills; it is another matter entirely when governments initiate such radical change, and Premier Weatherill would be justified in being more than a little nervous about a possible public backlash.
In recent days, Labor MP Stephanie Key and independent MP Dr Bob Such have once again flagged their intentions to push for their own further variations of euthanasia-type legislation. Last year Dr Such pledged he would “re-jig” his previous failed bill, while Ms Key has indicated she will attempt to legalise euthanasia through some sort of advance-care directives legislation.
In Tasmania, Labor Premier Lara Giddings and her coalition colleague, Greens leader Nick McKim, intend by mid-year to fulfil their longstanding commitment to introduce euthanasia and/or assisted suicide legislation. They believe their radical social agenda is an electoral vote-winner, and do not anticipate negative repercussions when elections in the island-state are held in early 2014.
In New South Wales, upper house Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann, has once again expressed her intention to introduce a euthanasia bill this year, even though the chances of its being passed in that chamber appear slim.
With the federal and state parliaments resuming in February, it is scarcely coincidental that a “high-level roundtable discussion” on euthanasia and assisted suicide is scheduled to be held in Brisbane in late January.
Organising the event is Canberra-based think-tank Australia21, which last year published a report calling for the legalising of illicit drugs. The Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the state premiers responded swiftly to the report and unanimously denounced the proposal. (See News Weekly, April 28, 2012).
Australia21 describes itself as “an independent, non-profit organisation whose core purpose is multidisciplinary research and inquiry on issues of strategic importance to Australia in the 21st century”.
In its April 2012 newsletter, under the headline, “The right to die with dignity”, it announced its intention to conduct an inquiry into the question of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
It said: “It is claimed that the vast majority of Australians support legislation that would facilitate legally assisted suicide, but that a very strong vocal minority who are opposed to such legislation have successfully discouraged politicians from being willing to enact it.”
It proposed that an inquiry could ask something along the lines of “What are the roadblocks in Australian society to reform initiatives with respect to the right to die, and how can they be overcome?” (Australia21 newsletter, April 2012, page 4).
In preparation for the January roundtable discussion, Professor Ben White and Professor Lindy Willmott, of the Health Law Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Law, published in November last year a background paper for Australia21 titled, “How should Australia regulate voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide?”
Nobody should dispute the authors’ sincerity when they described their attempts to “canvass both sides of the argument in an even-handed manner”.
However, despite the authors’ declared intentions, the paper fails to provide adequate balance and is seriously deficient in a number of key areas.
The authors have relied heavily and uncritically on reports, released earlier in 2012 in the United Kingdom and Canada, which favoured legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide.
This aspect alone justifies scepticism. Only time will tell whether or not the attendees at the forthcoming roundtable discussion in Brisbane will produce a more even-handed report.
One thing is certain: 2013 is shaping up as a very challenging year.
Organisation is the key to effective opposition to the nationwide push for euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Australians everywhere are invited to take the opportunity to register their clear opposition by signing The Declaration of Hope (styled on the successful Manhattan and Canberra Declarations for life, marriage and religious freedom), at: www.declare.noeuthanasia.org.au.
Paul Russell is founder and director of the national network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide www.noeuthanasia.org.au, and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.