The Adelaide Advertiser headline, “Bill to allow euthenasia (sic) in limited circumstances looks likely to fail in Parliament” (May 5, 2011), was a welcome, if not entirely true, statement.
The bill in question, state Labor MP Stephanie Key’s Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences — End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill, has indeed taken some heavy blows of late. A group of prominent doctors and specialists has publicly opposed the bill, and the Law Society of South Australia has expressed its reservations about it.
Into the mix Dr Philip Nitschke’s interventions, promoting the opening of death clinics, seem to have worked against the bill, and the rushed second reading vote (later rescinded) must surely have added to MPs’ doubts.
Earlier this month, when the debate resumed and the earlier vote was, five MPs in succession spoke against the bill — hence the Advertiser’s headline.
However, the thrust of the article wasn’t so much about the predicted decline of the Key bill, but rather about an alternative euthanasia bill being promoted by independent MP, Bob Such.
Such has put up the same bill, promoting euthanasia laws similar to those in the American state of Oregon, in the last three or four parliaments in succession. Rarely has his bill had more than a few speeches in its favour and, previously, it has always languished low down on the notice paper only to fall off at the proroguing of parliament.
The article has Such pushing his bill as a more reasonable alternative to the Key bill. He said: “The concern among members is that this one (being debated) doesn’t have enough safeguards. When you talk about ending someone’s life, it has to have pretty strict safeguards.”
However, in a previous debate, on March 24, when the Key bill was rushed through to a vote, Such expressed different sentiments. He said: “This bill will allow a medical practitioner, using their normal standards of medical care, to ensure that a person does not suffer and that their life is ended with dignity. I agree with what the Minister for Health said: the other options are more complex and more complicated, but this is a very simple proposal which basically allows a medical practitioner to end a life with dignity.… I support this measure.”
It must be said that, after the motion to rescind the earlier second reading was passed, Such did ask the Speaker of the House whether that meant that those who spoke earlier could speak again. It is not clear from the exchange whether or not Such would have declared a change of mind about the Key bill had he been given the opportunity.
Time will tell whether Such was genuine or whether this is simply another case of “any bill will do”.
The question is whether the “good bill, bad bill” play for votes will work. No doubt, there will be those who are happier with a safeguards model.
But, as Wesley J. Smith observed when he was in Adelaide early last year, safeguards are only there to make us feel better about killing people; they are never effective, cannot define every circumstance or the progress of any illness and, ultimately, will very likely be ignored by degrees anyway.
Paul Russell is executive officer for Right to Life NSW and founder of HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. URL: www.noeuthanasia.org.au. He is due to speak at the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s international conference in Vancouver (June 3–4).