The Victorian Parliament by night
One year ago, in December 2017, the Australian state of Victoria legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. This has given new heart to supporters in other states who have been lobbying for years for the “right-to-die”.
Helpfully, the Australian Healthcare Review has just published a review of how supporters were able to break a log-jam in Victoria – essentially a how-to manual for activists written by the government’s former Ministerial Advisory Panel, the brains trust for the process.
The authors conclude: “This process has been a tangible example of democracy at work at a time when many may feel cynical about political processes.” But this is a rather slanted view of what constitutes “democracy”. The thrust of their commentary is that the leading figures in the government of the day backed the cause of euthanasia and used the all the resources of the state government bureaucracy to pass the legislation. After reading the article, some readers will feel more cynical than ever.
Here are a few of the elements which the authors have highlighted.
1. Victoria passed a Charter of Human Rights in 2006. Its emphasis on autonomy helped to enable passage of a law decriminalising abortion in 2008 and then last year’s euthanasia legislation.
2. Victoria’s Labor government, headed by Premier Daniel Andrews, supported the legislation, although it was eventually decided on a conscience vote. A report from the parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee endorsed it. “Government support was essential,” report the authors.
3. As members of its Ministerial Advisory Panel (MAP), the government appointed seven men and women with distinguished professional qualifications, all supporters of a change in the law. The chair, Brian Owler, was a former federal president of the Australian Medical Association.
4. The MAP had extensive discussions with stakeholders in legalised euthanasia, such as health professionals and administrators, legal groups, medical colleges, nursing and allied health groups, consumer and carer groups and mental health providers. Consultative workshops were held throughout Victoria.
5. The support of the Department of Health and Human Services was essential to the process. It provided expert legal and political advice, and administrative support. The Health Minister dedicated “significant departmental resources required, for the process of consultation to develop a high-quality bill.”
6. Skilful media management ensured that messaging was “consistent and accurate”. The members of the MAP were given media training. Journalists were given extensive briefings at each major step “to ensure that the public messaging of a complex model containing strict criteria was clear and that the work was reported accurately. In addition, different lobby groups undertook public campaigns to engage the media and the general public, as well as to directly lobby politicians, which was helpful in balancing the differing arguments.”
It would be interesting to read an account of how the legislation passed from the point of view of its opponents.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.