July 1st 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY 'Safe Schools' and every school's duty of care

CANBERRA OBSERVED Catholic education: not gone but Gonski'd

EDITORIAL Oh dear, Prime Minister, Brexit is harder now

ELECTRICITY Blueprint author did not ask about the weather

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Call for referendum after Taiwan court backs same-sex marriage

EUTHANASIA Death-dealing bills break out like hydras' heads

GENDER POLITICS New breed of young women takes on the United Nations

CULTURE AND HISTORY The past is a foreign country

LITERATURE The Road to Wigan Pier and the roads beyond

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY The 'Brisbane line' and other scandals

MUSIC Carla Bley: sophisticated lady

CINEMA Churchill: The regrets of a Lear

BOOK REVIEW Charting 15 years of changing emphases


GENDER POLITICS The Pied Pipers of gender dysphoria

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Death-dealing bills break out like hydras' heads

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, July 1, 2017

Tasmanian bill defeated by huge margin

The death brigade is busy in all corners of our country. On Wednesday May 24, the Tasmanian Parliament debated the latest assisted suicide and euthanasia bill to come before an Australian Parliament. In Victoria we are threatened by a euthanasia bill later this year, and now in New South Wales a draft assisted-suicide and euthanasia bill is in circulation.

In Tasmania, the Parliament rejected the euphemistically entitled Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016 by a vote of two to one (16 votes to eight) in the Legislative Assembly.

In debate, Michael Ferguson MP criticised the euphemistic language of the bill, arguing that such a grave matter demands clarity: “We all agree it is a matter of life and death and if we cannot strip away the euphemistic language and discuss the reality of the matter, then it will not be an honest debate and the public interest would not be served.

“I ask those promoting this bill to be truly frank and honest in their descriptions, and for those listening to the debate today, if or when you hear those euphemisms, you need to remind yourself that the real words, however distasteful they are, are mercy killing and assisted suicide by a doctor.”

The bill was based on an earlier bill debated in 2013. Moved now, as then, by Lara Giddings MP, it was essentially a modified version answering some of the criticisms raised in the earlier debate.

As Mr Ferguson observed: “The movers of this bill are involved now for a third time. They have told us each time, no doubt in genuine self-belief, that this bill is safe and robust. They said that each time. The movers told Tasmanians to ‘trust us’. Recently, effectively, euphemistically they have said, ‘We have fixed it now, it has been thoroughly consulted, carefully designed’.”

Indeed, a few MPs spoke in favour of the concept but against the bill precisely because of the deficiencies in the proposed model.

“There are upwards of 20 errors in this that make this bill hard to read and I am surprised that I am the first person here who has raised this today. This bill does not refer internally, consistently at all and it is hard work to follow through. That, to me, says this bill is not polished, not ready, not checked enough and that erodes confidence in this bill for me,” said Roger Jaensch MP.

Matthew Groom MP exposed a real problem for the bill and its mover.

He quoted Giddings from a recent radio interview where she agreed that there is no perfect solution: “There is no perfect model. We are developing a model, and it has been developed over some years now, that we believe is safe that will look after vulnerable people, but why is it just because there is a risk, a very small tiny risk, that a vulnerable person might be hurt through this process, that many many more people have to continue to die agonising deaths?”

Even in her candid admission, Giddings obfuscates. She talks about the possibility of a vulnerable person being “hurt” – as though it might be about a grazed knee. This is a very cynical approach. No doubt driven by genuine passion for the issue, it nevertheless betrays a somewhat utilitarian approach.

The bill was in a similar form to that proposed for Victoria later this year. One hopes that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will note this defeat. There’s time for second thoughts.

Orwellian bill to be preceded by groupthink

Meanwhile, in NSW a draft assisted-suicide and euthanasia bill is being circulated for comment and consultation. The consultation is being conducted by the NSW Parliamentary Working Group on Assisted Dying. Although this sounds rather official, essentially the members of this group are simply a common interest group of MPs within the Parliament.

Not only is this “working group” not an official organ of the Parliament, but the consultation itself holds no official status either. You’ve probably guessed; the members who will oversee the consultation are also the members of the working group!

Like the Ministerial Advisory Panel in Victoria, submissions will be kept in confidence and not published, and there will be no consultations with the public – only community information sessions.

And what of this draft bill? No point wasting ink on analysing clauses at the moment: that can wait until the bill is tabled in Parliament! Apart from the novel lower age limitation of 25 years, it looks most like almost any other bill we’ve seen over the last decade and more. This despite the parliamentary group claiming to have “consulted extensively since 2015 with key stakeholder organisations and parliamentarians in NSW on the bill”. But, maybe they did consult and maybe there are simply just very few ways of couching doctor killing and assisting in suicide in legal terms.

But just for once I’d like to see a bill that used the proper terminology. Not here. “Assisted dying” is the latest groupthink catchphrase. And even though the bill describes both euthanasia and assisted suicide, apparently “assisted dying” is not the same as euthanasia and assisted suicide simply doesn’t rate a mention. From their “Overview” statement:

“Patients may self-administer, or be assisted by their medical practitioners or a nominated person to administer, a lethal substance (as prescribed by regulations) to end their lives, after having gone through the required process outlined in the bill.”

And then this gem: “The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 (NSW) is a bill that provides for physician-assisted dying, not voluntary euthanasia.”

They explain: “Physician-assisted dying involves a medical practitioner making a substance available to an eligible patient (after having gone through a process) which the patient then uses to end their lives at a time and place of their choosing.”

They add further: “The patient is in control at all stages of the process. Whereas voluntary euthanasia involves, in all cases, a medical practitioner carrying out a patient’s request to end their life up until the point of death.”

This really is despicable. It’s one thing to develop talking points for a bill. At a stretch one might want to concede that there may be some legitimacy to a consultation that is not consultative and where the inputs (submissions) will not be able to be perused against the outputs (the final bill). But hiding the essence of the program in saccharine euphemisms and then denying any relationship at all to the actual outcome is contemptuous of the NSW Parliament and the good people of that state.

The last time the NSW Parliament devoted time to assisted suicide and euthanasia the bill failed at second reading in the Upper House by a vote of 23 to 13 in 2013. There have been a number of changes in the Legislative Council since then, creating some uncertainty about the possible outcome of this bill, should it ever be debated.

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