April 20th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: PM leads Australia down the slippery slope

Urgent action needed to save Australia's sugar industry

The ALP and the embryonic stem cell issue

NSW Euthanasia bill overwhelmingly defeated

Report recommends relaxing controls over violent computer games

Can the Public Service be depoliticised?

Straws in the Wind: Living fossils / Engineers of human souls

Western Australia: MP looks at SA's marijuana laws

Media misrepresentation on stem cell therapy (letter)

Media bias (letter)

Refugees: where do you stand? (letter)

Water and Australia's priorities (letter)

The high price of misplaced idealism

Is the 'war on terrorism' being hijacked?

Peter Singer's utilitarianism

Books: 'The Unsleeping Eye: A Brief History of Secret Police and their Victims' by Robert Stove

Books: 'Children as Trophies?' by Patricia Morgan

Film: Some Like it Hot - a tribute to Billy Wilder

Books available from News Weekly

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Euthanasia bill overwhelmingly defeated

by Bob Denahy

News Weekly, April 20, 2002

The Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill introduced into the New South Wales parliament by Greens member, Ian Cohen, was defeated by a large majority, 26 votes to nine, in a ballot on 21 March.

Prior to the parliamentary debate, a forum had been organised in the Jubilee Room of the parliament by independent, Peter Breen, MLC. The speakers, who all argued against the Bill, included Dr Brian Pollard who said there had been five international enquiries into euthanasia: in England, the United States, Canada, South Australia and Tasmania. All had resulted in a rejection of euthanasia.

Dr Pollard argued that a euthanasia bill would make bad law. Criminal law is about right and wrong. The law says stealing is wrong, and it makes no exceptions. The same should apply to killing. To make a law allowing exceptions so that some people could in certain circumstances take the life of another would be to make a bad law. A subjective request (to die) would be met by a subjective response (to kill).

The small audience included Dr Philip Nitschke who strongly disagreed with Dr Pollard's arguments and declared that Australia needed "decent" laws on euthanasia.

On the same day a meeting was held in the theatrette of Parliament House where Ian Cohen, Dr Nitschke and Professor Peter Baume addressed an audience of about a hundred that included many members of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. Mr Cohen encouraged his supporters by declaring, "Why are those with a religious conviction foisting their view on 70 to 80 percent of the community? You are showing a spiritual understanding of what life and death is all about that is way beyond religion." In question time, Dr Nitschke was asked, "Why can't people not terminally ill kill themselves?" He answered, "That is an opinion very difficult to argue against."

In the Parliament, Mr Cohen spoke at length in support of his bill. He cited the example of Norma Hall, a 72-year-old Coogee woman, suffering terminal lung cancer who "feared dying in agony" and "simply wanted to die in comfort." He also said, "Recently at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle a statement was made by an overwhelming number of surgeons who admitted to having used voluntary and involuntary euthanasia ... If this House moves to maintain the status quo, I believe that is an extremely inhumane position for this House to take."

Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans also spoke in favour of the bill. He argued, "Euthanasia is a modality that no one questions if it is used for the family pet, but if it is used for a human being it becomes defined as murder or potential murder."

Those who spoke against the bill included the Rev Fred Nile. "The word 'terminate' really means 'kill' ... This bill creates the jargon of 'terminating' a person's life," he said.

Helen Sham-Ho said, "My personal opinion is that euthanasia is morally wrong. It is a basic tenet of our society that we do not kill one another ... To allow an innocent life to be taken ... is simply abhorrent to me ... The question is not whether euthanasia is good or bad; rather whether the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill constitutes good law. In my opinion it does not."

She added that Dr Ghauri Aggarwal, President of the New South Wales Society of Palliative Medicine, Consultative Physician in Palliative Medicine and head of the department at Concord Hospital, estimated that only one-third of terminally ill patients have access to palliative care services.

A particularly impressive and cogently argued speech against the bill was delivered by Dr Peter Wong. Amongst other things he said, "We know that in most cases - some say in more than 90 per cent of cases - people who seek to commit suicide have mental health problems ranging from depressive disorder to panic disorder ... Indeed, some believe that a suicide attempt, or the seeking of assistance in suicide, well may be an attempt to see if anyone cares ... Psychiatrists have long advanced the opinion that ... a suicide attempt may accurately be described ... as a cry for help."

He concluded, "As a doctor, as a human being, as a welfare worker, as a Christian and as a parliamentarian, I totally reject this bill."

As well as those mentioned above, others who voted against the bill were the Hon. John Della Bosca, the Hon. Amanda Fazio, the Hon. John Hatzistergos, the Hon. Tony Kelly, all from the ALP; and representing the Coalition, the Hon. Duncan Gay, the Hon. Michael Gallacher, Doug Moppett, and Brian Pezutti. The only Coalition member to vote in favour of the bill was John Jobling. David Oldfield of One Nation and Alan Corbett, Independent, abstained.

When the final vote was taken resulting in a resounding victory for the anti-euthanasia proponents, there ensued an equally resounding silence in both the electronic and print media.

It would be a safe bet to assume that though the pro-death lobby lost this round they have not yet lost the fight. They will return.

  • Bob Denahy

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