Victoria’s threatened euthanasia legislation has been deferred until late July or August. Tim Cannon reports.
Following weeks of persistent campaigning, it appears that opponents of the threatened doctor-assisted suicide legislation in Victoria have been granted some respite.
As we go to press, sources within the state’s upper house, the Legislative Council, indicate that debate over the legislation, originally scheduled for June 25, will not take place until late July or August. The reason? Supporters of the bill are simply not confident that it will pass the upper house vote.
This is heartening news, for several reasons. First, it vindicates the efforts of those concerned citizens who have urged MPs to think long and hard before supporting a bill which seeks to solve one evil — pain — with a greater evil — death.
It confirms the great value of sustained pressure from constituents on their legislative representatives, and highlights the importance of communicating to MPs the grave concerns over assisted-suicide which many Australians hold, but which most are inclined to keep private.
Second, it shows that MPs are listening, that they are taking the issue seriously. Rather than bowing to the right-to-die lobby, MPs have demonstrated a willingness to evaluate the assisted-suicide bill on its merits (or lack thereof).
Of course, many MLCs are confirmed in their position, either for or against the bill. Nevertheless, it is clear that the undecided middle ground will not pass legislation of this gravity without due consideration.
Finally, it exposes the bluff which supporters of the bill have played from the outset: that assisted-suicide is a popular policy and should therefore slide into law without significant political resistance.
Back in May, at an information forum on the bill — a launch of sorts — Dying With Dignity Victoria’s (DWDV) president Neil Francis suggested that supporters of the bill had every reason to be confident. His organisation’s exit-poll of MPs at the state election revealed a legislature highly sympathetic to the assisted-suicide agenda. Thankfully, it appears Francis was wrong.
Of course, the bill is by no means dead. To the contrary, DWDV is ramping up its campaign, and will use the intervening weeks to attempt to coax undecided MPs into supporting the bill. But this will not be easy, as long as opponents of the bill maintain the pressure which has proved so successful thus far.
Compounding the difficulties of the right-to-die lobbyists has been the widely publicised case of two women who were last week convicted of manslaughter by a NSW Supreme Court jury, for the “mercy killing” of Alzheimer’s sufferer, Graeme Wiley.
While Victorian assisted-suicide advocates have been quick to disassociate their bill from the case, the verdict has cast a pall over a campaign which has sought to present assisted-suicide legislation as a caring, compassionate, choice-oriented measure, bereft of any scary ethical issues. But the NSW case demonstrates otherwise.
At the heart of the case were issues of the victim’s mental capacity to choose suicide; the financial motive which led the two women to administer the deadly drug to the victim; and the practice of non-voluntary euthanasia. All of these are issues which the Victorian bill has attempted to exclude by way of its so-called safeguards, and supporters claim that the bill would not have provided any defence for the women.
But it is difficult to take such assurances seriously when other assisted-suicide advocates are brazenly speaking out in defence of the guilty women, suggesting that their actions were not just acceptable, but commendable.
Speaking to The Australian (June 21), Exit International’s Dr Philip Nitschke — perhaps Australia’s best-known assisted-suicide advocate — was openly critical of the NSW Supreme Court’s manslaughter verdict.
A supporter of both mercy-killing and the right-to-suicide for the mentally-ill, Dr Nitschke said, “I think the accepted position should be… in Graeme Wiley’s instance… that of course he still wanted to die…. He couldn’t say it clearly any more, but that’s what he’d been saying for a long time: ‘Don’t let me get like this’.”
The only lesson to be learned from the case, according to Dr Nitschke, was for Alzheimer’s sufferers to keep their disease under wraps, lest they be denied the right to suicide. “Don’t go to your doctor. Don’t have the tests done,” he said. “And if you do have the tests done that show that you’re starting to lose mental capacity, make sure it is not recorded…”
The self-appointed right-to-die proselyte is also rallying support for Greens Senator Bob Brown’s bill to overturn federal legislation which bans euthanasia and assisted-suicide in the territories.
A senate committee report on Brown’s bill is set to be tabled in parliament on June 25, and will be accessible via the committee’s website.
It seems fair to suggest that, if the Victorian assisted-suicide bill represents the current wishes of the euthanasia lobby, Dr Nitschke and his cohort demonstrate where such legislation will inevitably lead. It is a grim future.
But it is a future not without hope, as the developments in Victoria clearly indicate. And, while Colleen Hartland MLC has confirmed that she will press ahead with the legislation, opponents of the bill should be congratulated on their efforts thus far, and encouraged to maintain the fight. With persistence, this is a bill which can be defeated.
— Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Thomas More Centre, Melbourne.