October 12th 2013

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Articles from this issue:

ENVIRONMENT: IPCC report ignites new row over global warming

MARRIAGE: Same-sex marriage: is it harmless?

TASMANIA: Labor premier and Greens to legalise medicalised killing

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Tony Abbott's first major test: stopping the boats

EDITORIAL: The Abbott government gets down to work...

OPINION: Why Australia should acquire US-built nuclear submarines

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Challenges loom after Angela Merckel's election win

POPULATION: China may be too late to avert demographic disaster

POLITICAL IDEAS: Replacing agribusinesses with family farms

LIFE ISSUES: Culture of death and our missing moral compass

HISTORY: How King Alfred's reputation fell victim to political correctness

OPINION: David Marr and the white whale

CULTURE: How television can stupefy or stimulate our minds

BOOK REVIEW A rogues' gallery

BOOK REVIEW Intellectual rivals

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Labor premier and Greens to legalise medicalised killing

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, October 12, 2013

Tasmania’s Labor Premier Lara Giddings and the state’s deputy premier, Greens leader Nick McKim, have jointly tabled the euphemistically-entitled Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2013.

The bill is due to be debated when parliament resumes on October 15. However, given the recent history of parliamentary debates in the Apple Isle and given the co-sponsorship of this bill by these two leaders, it is expected that the debate will be allocated a substantial amount of time.

News websites have unerringly cited the bill as being about euthanasia. However, the proposed law allows for both euthanasia and assisted suicide. Again, supporters have been quoted as saying that the bill’s provisions are limited only to terminally ill people; but the bill’s clause 11 goes far beyond this.

“Tasmanians are compassionate and caring people, and polls have consistently shown that this reform is supported by the overwhelming majority of the community,” Mr McKim told Hobart’s daily newspaper, The Mercury (September 26, 2013).

This is gilding the lily. Even if we can accept that the problematic polls accurately represent Tasmanians’ support for this law reform, that does not necessarily translate into support for the particular model before parliament.

Mr McKim will need to do much better than that to secure the requisite 50 per cent plus one vote in both of the state’s houses of parliaments.

This bill has been a long time coming. Floated originally a few years ago (News Weekly, March 5, 2011), the proposal for “Voluntary Assisted Dying” was canvassed again some months ago in a discussion paper circulated by the Premier Giddings and responded to, so we are told, in hundreds of submissions (News Weekly, April 13, 2013).

To date, however, the findings from that exercise have not been made public.

The Giddings/McKim bill is essentially an attempt to provide a respectable veneer to their proposed laws to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide. But beneath the gloss, the grave risks to vulnerable people remain much as they do in other bills for this type of reform.

The bill refrains from referring to euthanasia by name, and refers only passingly to assisted suicide in a clause that effectively contradicts itself by denying that it is about assisted suicide!

Tasmanians are passionate about the tourist appeal of their island-state — as well they might. But, try as they might, Giddings and McKim have failed to quash the inevitable questions about the likelihood of “death tourism”.

Putting aside the possibility that restricting access to Tasmanian residents might be forbidden under the Commonwealth constitution, the faux residency provisions are a joke. Anyone who wants to travel to Tasmania to be killed medically need only find a residence for about four weeks before making the necessary appointments.

All of this may be a boon to the travelling roadshow of veteran euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke’s organisation, Exit International. When the possibility of a euthanasia bill for Tasmania was raised last year, Dr Nitschke promptly gave media interviews announcing that he would set up a clinic on the island to work within the bill’s provisions (“Mobile euthanasia unit ‘ready for law change’”, Launceston Examiner, June 28, 2012).

This was played down by Premier Giddings at the time. The reality is that the bill does not, and cannot, stop this from happening. All a patient need do is sign a document making Dr Nitschke his or her “primary medical practitioner”, and the process could get under way.

But, more than that, there’s also an opportunity here for an entrepreneurial type to set up a bed and breakfast (B&B) guest house (always popular with holiday-makers) to assist those seeking to qualify for the bill’s residency requirements. You could call it the Bide a Wee B&B and market it under the slogan, “A short stay to die for!”

Tasmania’s Liberal opposition MPs have remarked that the Labor/Greens euthanasia bill is akin to a Roman bread-and-circuses distraction, given the parlous state of the local economy and other pressing problems.

Even an avowed euthanasia supporter has said as much. In a recent online blog, an engineer said: “I support euthanasia totally. I am just a little surprised, possibly cynical, that a Labor/Greens alliance has wheeled this out now.

“An unholy coalition … has sat in government for a number of years over a state that has been reduced to beggar status and beyond with the following achievements: • 50 per cent of adults unable to read and write properly. • The lowest income per person. • The highest unemployment and continuing rate of job destruction. • The worst hospital and medical care system • and on and on...

“Could this be an attempted PR diversion because they are incapable of performing the fundamentals of normal sound government for all their people? They seem intent on establishing an island walking-park for Bob Brown and his mates.” (Neil Ferguson comment, dated September 28, 2013, on The Conversation website).

Political point-scoring aside, the writer does have a point — a point that will, we hope, resonate with Tasmanians — especially their parliamentarians.

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



Paul Russell, “Tasmania: Euthanasia and assisted suicide back on the agenda”, News Weekly, March 5, 2011.
URL: www.newsweekly.com.au/article.php?id=4450

“Mobile euthanasia unit ‘ready for law change’”, The Examiner (Launceston), June 28, 2012.
URL: www.examiner.com.au/story/157297/mobile-euthanasia-unit-ready-for-law-change/

Paul Russell, “AMA Tasmania resists Labor/Greens euthanasia push”, News Weekly, April 13, 2013.
URL: www.newsweekly.com.au/article.php?id=5533

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