SOCIETY by Terri M. KelleherNews Weekly
Greens' euthanasia push dead in the water
, May 9, 2015
On Wednesday 15 April Greens MLC Colleen Hartland brought on for debate her motion to refer the issue of euthanasia to the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC). To do this she must have believed she had the numbers to get the motion passed.
The Australian Family Association (AFA) ran a strong campaign opposing the motion on the basis that referral of this very contentious and fundamental social issue to the VLRC was not just an administrative step but that there were substantial and serious reasons why this was not the appropriate way to deal with the issue
In the first place, the VLRC does not represent the Victorian people. Members of the commission are not elected. The VLRC is not representative of the Victorian community in the way that parliamentarians are.
Accountability is one of the key checks and balances in our system of government. The VLRC, while it is funded by the Government, is by its own admission, independent and therefore unaccountable to the Victorian public.
Second, to refer anything to the VLRC, “a problem with the current law” has to be identified. The VLRC itself points out that it starts from a premise that the law needs to change rather than from any transparent sense of inquiry. What indications are there that the law on euthanasia needs to change? This motion is the first time that the matter has been raised since the same motion by the same MP was defeated in 2011.
Numerous inquiries over 20 years, in Australia and overseas, have recommended euthanasia not be legalised. They have decided there are no adequate safeguards to protect the vulnerable: the elderly, the frail, the disabled. Where euthanasia has been legalised it has expanded beyond the terminally ill and beyond voluntary euthanasia to those such as those suffering from dementia, who cannot give consent.
Finally, the proper place for any review of euthanasia is a committee of Parliament itself, drawn from elected members charged to examine the matter in detail and contribute to a report to Parliament based on their finding for the consideration of Parliament. The VLRC, in contrast, has a much narrower focus. It has only to consider what changes to the law it would recommend.
The euthanasia motion was debated on Wednesday 15 April but did not go to a vote. Ms Hartland could have called for a vote at any stage but chose to allow the allocated time to be taken up with members making their submissions.
DLP member Dr Rachel Carling- Jenkins spoke strongly against the motion, and you can read her contribution to the debate on her website (rachelmp.com.au). Dr Carling-Jenkins thanked those many voters who emailed her on the issue for taking the time to contact her and for having the courage to stand up for their principles.
The Opposition MPs who spoke to the motion were divided in their views. Some indicated that they were in favour of the motion and others that they were against. So the Opposition would not have voted as a block if the motion had been put to a vote, in contrast to its position on a similar Greens motion in 2011. Instead, their members had a conscience vote. Several prominent Liberal MPs stated they would support the Greens motion.
In bringing the motion on for debate Ms Hartland must have been confident she had the numbers and it would be passed. Perhaps she assumed Labor would support the motion. However, as the debate wore on and ALP members got up to speak, it became clear that the government was going to vote as a block against the motion.
With no chance of success and facing an embarrassing defeat, the third after 2008 and 2011, the Greens retreated from the debate and did not call for a vote.
After the debate the Greens stated publicly that a vote would be held in May. With Labor members already stating they did not support the matter going to the VLRC it was unlikely the Greens would risk another embarrassing defeat and, intelligence is that the motion has been withdrawn.
Labor policy on end-of-life issues, which they took to the election in November 2014, is to make Advance Care Directives legally enforceable. The party had no position on euthanasia on its election platform. This may explain the Government’s opposition to the Greens motion.
Why the Liberal Party did not oppose the motion as a block as it did a similar motion in 2011 is not clear.
Terri M. Kelleher is national president of the Australian Family Association.