September 14th 2013

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Major challenges face an Abbott government

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Five lessons that Labor must learn

MARRIAGE DEBATE: Media's reaction to 'child equality' election campaign

SOCIETY: Same-sex marriage and social change:
Exceeding the speed of thought

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The folly of a US-led Syria strike

ENERGY: Affordable, clean way to achieve fuel self-sufficiency

SCHOOLS: Educrats trying to change their spots

CHINA: Long jail term looms for 'crown prince' Bo Xilai

UNITED STATES: White House and media ignore upsurge in racial violence

LIFE ISSUES: Does an unborn child feel pain during an abortion?

LIFE ISSUES: Dr Nitschke reveals euthanasia's dark side

HISTORY: Must we be slaves of time and place?


CULTURE: The forgotten art of dressing well

BOOK REVIEW Tim Fischer's time in Rome

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Dr Nitschke reveals euthanasia's dark side

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, September 14, 2013

You’ve got to hand it to euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke for telling it like it really is.

Australia’s state-based euthanasia lobby groups, and the state-based MPs who support them, traditionally argue for limited legislation with so-called safeguards. Dr Nitschke, however, has consistently called for the legalisation of virtually unrestricted euthanasia — save only for the exclusion of minors and people with mental incapacity.

Because of this, some of the state-based groups have formally distanced themselves from Dr Nitschke and his organisation, Exit International. Other groups, however, have a more ambivalent attitude. They seek to make their approach palatable to the public and polity alike, and they fear that Dr Nitschke’s prominence in the euthanasia debate is bound to discredit their softly-softly strategy, because his radical program is the logical end of even the most minimalistic approach.

So when, in the midst of Australia’s recent federal election campaign, Dr Nitschke argued that euthanasia could be justified on economic grounds — that older Australians choosing to die would help restrain the health budget — it must have made these latter groups cringe.

He said: “While … no one is saying we should put people down against their will, we are suggesting it is a worthwhile debate to have — especially if hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in the health budget could be saved or redirected” (Canberra Times, August 16, 2013).

During the federal election, Dr Nitschke busily promoted his latest venture, the Voluntary Euthanasia Party. He stood as the party’s Senate candidate in the Australian Capital Territory. Pundits gave the party little chance of success. Like many other micro-parties, it was really more about promoting a particular cause.

However, when Dr Nitschke speaks of saving “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars” from the health budget, he is envisaging the prospect of many, many Australians being killed by lethal injection.

Again, this horrifying scenario runs contrary to the arguments of those “respectable” state-based organisations, which assert that euthanasia should be available only for the few in dire need, and only in the most exceptional circumstances.

When Dr Nitschke admits that the economic argument in favour of euthanasia is “so vexed that advocates have dared not mention its name”, he’s really only stating the obvious.

His is a very dangerous utilitarian argument that’s likely to be enticing only to those who see a possible economic gain of another kind — the early exit of a loved one and the early distribution of their estate.

In terms of elder abuse, this would be El Dorado! But it would also cast the state as an abuser — giving undue priority to achieving savings rather than ensuring adequate health care for the most vulnerable. Heaven knows the effect this kind of news would have on the elderly!

The day before Dr Nitschke’s Canberra Times article was published, the Australian Greens Party announced its own renewed push for euthanasia. It has moved more euthanasia bills in Australian parliaments, state and federal, than any other party.

In the last federal parliament, Victorian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale tabled yet another bill to try to overturn the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997. If his bid were successful, it would allow the ACT and the Northern Territory to debate and likely pass laws allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

However, for many years now, the Commonwealth Senate has shown little inclination for this kind of debate — but that’s no guarantee that its reticence will continue indefinitely.

This time, however, the Greens are pursuing a decidedly different strategy.

Since the time of the operation of the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, a side debate has surfaced from time to time about the Commonwealth parliament’s powers in relation to euthanasia and assisted suicide and whether these powers could be extended beyond the territories to all states. It has been commonly accepted that, because the criminal codes in relation to homicide are state-based codes, any exceptions — e.g., euthanasia and assisted suicide — would also be matters for the states.

Senator Di Natale is drawing a very long bow when he claims that the Commonwealth does possess powers to legislate for euthanasia under Section 51. A UK newspaper recently reported that “the party had received legal advice from Senate clerks and constitutional experts saying that it was possible under section 51(xxiiiA) of the constitution, which allowed the Commonwealth to legislate for the provision of medical services” (The Guardian, UK, August 16, 2013).

Possible? Yes — but hardly likely.

For his bill to succeed, Di Natale would need to convince the Senate that euthanasia and assisted suicide are medical services, when the reality is that they’re simply plain old killing!

But we’ve seen this all before. In Canada, the Quebec provincial government is currently seeking to legalise euthanasia under the same false pretext for precisely the same reason. As murder is prohibited under the Canadian Criminal Code, the Quebec government is tabling a bill, which calls euthanasia “medical aid in dying” (MAD) and claims it would be medical treatment (Toronto Globe and Mail, June 19, 2013).

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Dr Nitschke has applauded the Greens’ initiative — and, of course, both Nitschke and the Greens continue to assure the public that there will be safeguards.

Paul Russell is founder and director of the Australian network, HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide, and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) International. He blogs at

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