Australia's Euthanasia Debate

Green Party Pushes Law Changes

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, NOV. 7, 2010 ( A heated debate is going on in Australia over euthanasia, sparked off by legislative proposals at both federal and state levels brought by the Green party.
The national election in August saw a significant increase in votes for the Greens and following the election the party’s leader, Senator Bob Brown, announced that one of his top priorities would be to introduce changes in the law governing euthanasia in the two federal territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
He made good on his promise by introducing a bill in the Senate at the end of October that would rescind the 1997 Euthanasia Laws Act that removed the power of the federal territories to legislate on euthanasia. The act was introduced following the legalization of euthanasia in the Northern Territory in 1995.
South Australia’s Parliament also has a pending bill on euthanasia. After a previous attempt, that last year lost by just one vote in the Legislative Council, the upper house, the Greens have recently put forward a new proposal, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported Oct. 22. A vote in the Legislative Council on the bill is expected to take place towards the end of November.
The month before the upper house in the West Australian parliament voted down an initiative to legalize euthanasia. It was also put forward by a Green member of Parliament, Robin Chapple. It went down 24 votes to 11, the West Australian newspaper reported Sept. 23.
In New South Wales the Greens have also put forward a bill, yet to be voted on, which would enable terminally ill patients the right to euthanasia.
It’s also an issue in the state of Victoria, currently in the midst of an electoral campaign prior to voting at the end of November. Even before the start of the campaign some members of the state parliament, among them members of the Greens, were calling for another look at the possibility of allowing euthanasia, the Age newspaper reported Sept. 23. It last came up in 2008 when the legislature rejected a bid to legalize euthanasia by a sizable majority.
The calls for changes in the law led to a public statement by Melbourne’s archbishop, Denis Hart, dated Oct. 7. The renewed push in Victoria and other parts of Australia to allow assisted suicide is misplaced compassion, he explained.
“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the opposite of care and represent the abandonment of older and dying persons,” he stated.
As medical technology advances, and we have greater numbers of elderly people, they should not be looked upon as a problem for society, Archbishop Hart insisted. Instead we should see our care of the elderly: “as repayment of a debt of gratitude, as a part of a culture of love and care.”
Then, on Oct. 29, Victoria’s Catholic bishops issued a statement with advice on how people should decide who to vote for.
In “Your Vote Your Values” the bishops encouraged Catholics to question candidates on a range of issues from life matters, to education, the justice system, and the right to religious freedom.
At the top of the list in the document was the section on life. “The destruction of human life can never be an acceptable solution, which is why the Church remains steadfast in its opposition to abortion and euthanasia,” it declared.
Following the release of the statement Archbishop Hart told the ABC that euthanasia was an ”absolutely essential issue,” the Brisbane Times reported Nov. 1.
The Church respected the right of individual voters, the archbishop said, but ”for me, of course, I could never vote for someone” who supported euthanasia.
The parliamentary action is being accompanied by renewed efforts from pro-euthanasia groups. Earlier in the year Dr Philip Nitschke, a long-standing promoter of allowing voluntary suicide, announced he was helping people do this by enabling them to acquire a barbiturate, Nembutal, only allowed to euthanize animals in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Feb. 15.
Nitschke is putting people in contact with veterinarians overseas who are sending them the drug. He has been doing this since the late 1990s and according to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, in the last 10 years, 51 people in Australia have died as a result of taking an overdose of Nembutal. The institute’s report noted that in many of these cases those who died were not suffering from serious illnesses.
Then, more recently, Nitschke’s group, Exit International, has sought to show pro-euthanasia ads on television. Just prior to the airing of the ad the regulatory body, Free TV Australia, withdrew its permission for it, the Age newspaper reported Sept. 13.

He had more luck with a billboard placed at the outskirts of Sydney, right by one of the main highways, that went up in October. It alleges that 85% of people support euthanasia and encourages them to pressure governments to allow it.
Exit International wants to put up more billboards and, according to an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Oct. 19, Nitschke is considering re-wording the television ad in a bid to obtain permission to screen it.
October also saw the launch of a new national alliance,, to bring together state-based groups in campaigning for the legalization of euthanasia. It was launched in Melbourne during the biennial meeting of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, the Australian newspaper reported Oct. 9.
Death as a solution

Commenting on the efforts to promote euthanasia Bishop Anthony Fisher of Parramatta said that it isn’t just intrinsically wrong and contrary to all sound medical ethics, but that it also something very difficult to control once introduced.

“Once we admit that our patients might decide that they’ve ‘had enough’ and can ask their health carers to hurry up their deaths; then we are already well down a path to death as a solution to a growing range of problems,” the Catholic Weekly reported in its Oct. 10 edition.
An example of how voluntary euthanasia can be abused was given by Andrew Bolt in his Oct 8 column for the Herald Sun newspaper. During the time euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory, Nitschke helped seven people to die, presenting them to the media as being terminally ill or in great suffering.
Later, however, when he divulged more information on the deaths in an article published by the medical journal the Lancet, it turned out that one of the people, Martha Alfonso-Bowles, who Bolt described as a lonely divorcee, was not terminally ill. She was suffering from bowel cancer, but it was treatable through surgery and the prognosis was good for her treatment.

Moreover, in the paper Nitschke conceded that none of the seven had been in severe pain.

Margaret O’Connor, president of Palliative Care Australia, was also critical of the pro-euthanasia campaign in an opinion article published Oct. 12 in the Australian newspaper.

She pointed out that Australians received excellent medical care, citing a recent survey published by The Economist magazine. In a survey of 40 countries, Australia ranked second in overall quality of death, and first in being the lowest cost to the patient.

Instead of allowing voluntary euthanasia what should be done is to expand palliative care services, allowing people the best possible quality of life through all the stages of their illness.
It is mistaken to believe that suicide is the only way to relieve suffering, O’Connor argued. In fact, she quoted studies that show when people receive adequate palliative care, only 1% make an explicit request of assisted suicide. Inconvenient facts that pro-euthanasia lobbyists conveniently ignore.

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