August 10th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future of the Australian Democrats

Latham steals limelight from lacklustre ALP

New Zealand Labour forced into new coalition

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Rob the Builder / Mayhem in Lilliput / Fear of wages

ECONOMY: New agenda needed to address social breakdown

WA Liberals' new policy positions

Could India help in Afghanistan? (letter)

Clerical scandals: another view (letter)

Families now a luxury (letter)

COMMENT: Stalin's heirs live on ... in Australia

BIOETHICS: American stem cell expert to visit

UNITED STATES: Why Bush ended funding for UN population control agency

LAW: International Criminal Court decision to dog government

BOOKS: Our Posthuman Future, by Francis Fukuyama

BOOKS: The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Shirley Nolan: a case for euthanasia?

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Shirley Nolan: a case for euthanasia?

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, August 10, 2002
On July 14 2002, well known bone marrow campaigner, Shirley Nolan committed suicide. One hopes that, as time passes, Shirley will be remembered for her heroic efforts to save the life of her young son Anthony who died, at the age of seven, from a rare disease that affected his immune system. It is a human tragedy that, in her passing, she has chosen, rather, to be known as an "advocate for death".

A mother's love for her child knows no bounds. The inestimable value of her son's life drove Shirley Nolan to search for a compatible bone marrow donor half way around the globe.


All mothers know something of this heroism. The media often features stories of parents clinging to the slimmest of hopes for their sick and dying children, straining to find new therapies, raising money for expensive treatments. Does a mother ever give up hope while her child still has life?

Does the value of life depend on circumstances? Had Anthony Nolan not been afflicted with a terrible disease would his mother have loved him less - or more? Shirley Nolan's efforts on behalf of her child were founded in her love for him - but would that love have been less in other circumstances?

Where there is life there is hope. Euthanasia advocates use the term "hopelessly ill" to attempt to define when a person should have the right to "death with dignity". Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the very use of that term diminishes the value of life. Anthony Nolan's life expectancy may have been limited; his chances of finding a donor - slim.

However, by her own actions, Shirley Nolan told the world that she would not give up hope. We can only wonder at why she could not find such hope for herself.

The timing of Shirley Nolan's suicide may well have been more a matter of public relations than in response to her immediate pain and suffering.


In an article in the Adelaide Advertiser (July 17), SA Volunteer Euthanasia Society President, Frances Coombe, said that Mrs Nolan wanted her situation to be used "to highlight the cruel, prohibitive law here". The law did not stop Mrs Nolan from killing herself.

Hard cases make for bad law. Sad as her plight was, Shirley Nolan's death is as much an argument for legalised euthanasia as legalising car theft because someone was killed in a police chase.

People continue to break the law, people will continue to take their own lives.

What seems to be becoming a procession of publicised suicides is of great concern in the continuing euthanasia debate. It's virtually impossible to counter the bad press with positive stories of amelioration of pain through palliative care or someone suffering bravely because every moment of life is precious.

No one wants to read about the thousands of men and women, in nursing homes, in hospice care, or with loved ones at home, who suffer in silence. It is these people who die with dignity; but their deaths are not news.

The Dignity in Dying Bill 2002 currently before the South Australian Parliament is due for the Second Reading vote in the Legislative Council sometime in August.

  • Paul Russell

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