No one should begrudge any Australian or group of Australian’s from ‘pushing their barrow’ in seeking to further their agenda, whatever that might be.
For those, like me, who oppose the introduction of legislation to allow people to be legally killed or for people to assist people to kill themselves, we sometimes just need to count to ten when every new euthanasia and/or assisted suicide bill is raised in some Australian Parliament. Yes, they do have a right to push their barrow and to have their say.
But that certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t criticize and it doesn’t mean that we won’t oppose their agenda.
Adam Bandt MP, The Greens Member for Melbourne, recently set up a poll question on the political activism website, Oursay.org. It concerned, as he called it, end-of-life decision-making. The question is now closed. From what I can make of the site, it appears that there were 578 votes. The breakdown, yes or no, is not apparent. According to the site and to a report on Nine MSN, Bandt intends to use the Oursay.org poll as the subject of a question to the Prime Minister during Question Time on the 14th of March.
“The old parties have vacated the political battlefield of ideas, so they shy away from advancing issues like dying with dignity… despite having popular support to do so,” he told Nine MSN.
Well, I guess that’s one take on it.
Let’s take a look at the question to be asked in Parliament:
“Why does not the Australian Parliament take over the issue of end-of-life decision-making, which affects every single citizen as well as the medical and nursing professions? Over 80 per cent of Australians believe that terminally ill people who request aid in dying should be granted it. Just the knowledge that an early release is possible would comfort most of us. Don’t leave it to State governments to keep bumbling on and quoting inaccurate information. Institute an inquiry and establish how voluntary euthanasia works safely in Oregon, Washington, the Netherlands and other mature and civilised states.”
The issue of jurisdiction (state vs federal) over euthanasia was canvassed during the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (the Andrew’s Bill). Commentators observed that there would not seem to be a head of power under the constitution for this to take place. Others might disagree.
While the intention of the question is clear, the use of ‘end-of-life decision-making’ is simply not appropriate. Patients make valid decisions about their care and their treatment options in the end-stages of life every day that have nothing to do with euthanasia or assisted suicide. State-sanctioned-killing is probably the most accurate phrase, but I doubt Mr. Bandt would agree.
While polls do consistently return an 80% vote for assistance to die the question cannot be taken as anything more than a vote based on a sense of compassion for those in need. Ask most people what their top ten concerns are for Australia and I’ll bet that euthanasia and assisted suicide simply don’t rate.
If there is a case for a national approach on these issues, the argument would surely be that it would be significant problems if one state had such legislation and the others did not. Decrying state governments’ as ‘bumbling on and quoting inaccurate information’ is, quite frankly, as insult with no justification whatsoever.
And while we’re on ‘inaccurate information’, Mr Bandt might like to reflect upon the fact that ‘voluntary euthanasia’ is not legal in Oregon and Washington as he states. There they have a system for assisted suicide only. It’s only my opinion, but I don’t think that a society that kills people is in anyway ‘mature and civilised’.
578 votes is significantly less than each online newspaper poll on this issue over the last few years. Oursay.org will need to do significantly better than that to gain political traction.
“If Australia could not have national legislation the Greens would continue to work to achieve the change through state and territory parliaments,” said Bandt. An accurate observation, no doubt.
Paul Russell is director of Hope, a national network working against euthanasia and assisted suicide. He is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.