EUTHANASIA I: Physician-assisted suicide defeated in WA
by John Barich
News Weekly, October 16, 2010
A Greens-initiated euthanasia bill has been defeated in the Western Australian upper house by 24 votes to 11. Four Greens, six Labor members and one National voted for the bill.
The WA victory is in no small measure due to the dedicated efforts of two men.
One of them is director of Perth's L.J. Goody Bioethics Centre, Father Joe Parkinson, who for more than a year has conducted grassroots discussions about the issue. At a recent seminar at the University of Notre Dame Australia, an audience of 200 people heard Father Parkinson, along with a senior doctor and barrister, argue the case against physician-assisted suicide.
Also deserving credit is the Liberal upper house member, the Hon. Nick Goiran, who arranged information briefings on euthanasia for interested MPs and also tabled a 7,000-signature petition protesting against legalising euthanasia.
A number of pro-life groups, including the Australian Family Association (AFA), helped collect signatures for the petition and, once the Greens' bill was introduced, encouraged hundreds of constituents to write to their MPs.
The WA branch of the Knights of the Southern Cross sponsored the reprinting and widespread distribution among MPs and community leaders of Dr Peter Hung Manh Tran's acclaimed 294-page book, Advancing the Culture of Death: Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide (2006).
An ordained priest and doctor of moral theology, Dr Tran has lectured and written extensively on bioethics and is a colleague of Father Parkinson at Perth's L.J. Goody Bioethics Centre.
The Knights of the Southern Cross also arranged a pro-life talk by the Australian Medical Association's former national president, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, and the AMA's former WA state president, Professor Paul Skerritt.
The AMA's current national president, Dr Andrew Pesce, intimated that the AMA was flatly against euthanasia. He said that its members believed that doctors should not be required to do anything where the only intention was to end life.
Public opposition to euthanasia from WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett and Labor Opposition leader Eric Ripper helped in the final result. Both the Coalition and Labor parties allowed their members a conscience vote. This enabled a strongly pro-life Labor MLC, the Hon. Kate Doust, to involve herself in the pro-life campaign. No Liberal voted for the bill.
Upper house Liberal MP, Mr Nick Goiran, in a persuasive speech during the bill's second reading debate on September 21, warned that it will be "a legal impossibility to protect against involuntary euthanasia when voluntary euthanasia is legalised".
He drew a parallel between the arrangement proposed in the legislation between the doctor and the patient and an ordinary business contract. The latter can be re-negotiated, but the former cannot be revisited because the person has been killed.
Mr Goiran concluded his speech by quoting Diane Coleman, founder and president of the US-based disability rights organisation, Not Dead Yet. In a contribution to the book, The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care, edited by Kathleen M. Foley MD and Herbert Hendin MD (John Hopkins University Press, 2002), Diane Coleman wrote:
"There are, perhaps, two essential reasons for which society should reject the arguments being made by assisted suicide and euthanasia proponents:
"First, as human beings, by now we should know ourselves and each other well enough to recognise that people, whether individuals or corporations, cannot be trusted with the right to kill other people, especially people who are socially devalued. The problem is big enough already without making it legal and easier than it already is.
"Second, we have no idea what it would be like to live in a society that welcomed and accommodated each individual, regardless of his or her abilities and disabilities. We should try that first - respect everyone by according them real dignity and real human rights.
"People will feel much better if they do not have to fear being devalued and disrespected, or abandoned by families, friends and health care resources, with nowhere to turn and no-one to turn to for support. We can do better than that. In the meantime, the right to a natural death is sufficient. The right to be killed, or to kill another, is premature at best."
Given the frequency with which euthanasia bills appear before parliaments across Australia, surely it is time to declare a moratorium on them to enable governments to concentrate on governing.
John Barich is Western Australian president of the Australian Family Association.