The Australian state of New South Wales has just dodged a euthanasia bullet. It is the only state in the country where euthanasia is still illegal. An independent MP, Alex Greenwich, last week tabled a bill in the lower house to change that.
Euthanasia lobbyists have run a thoroughly professional campaign. A petition has been signed by 100,000 supporters. The bill is backed by a record 28 MPs, including members of the government, crossbench and the Labor opposition – which is said to be the highest number of co-sponsors to a bill in the history of any Australian parliament. Scores of doctors have signed a letter of support.
But today the euthanasia juggernaut suddenly ran bang! over a speed bump. And stopped.
The government and the opposition have agreed to send it to the upper house for an inquiry. Its law and justice committee must report back to the parliament on the first sitting day in February. The bill will then be debated in the upper house.
This by no means guarantees the failure of the bill. But the aura of inevitability has evaporated. The delay will give an opportunity for both sides of the debate to present their best arguments and evidence.
Perhaps this is the moment to recall an article written by then-Treasurer Dominic Perrottet in 2017 in the Sydney Morning Herald opposing the legalization of assisted suicide. You will notice that the Sydney Morning Herald peppered Perrottet’s article with links to pro-assisted suicide stories. Nonetheless, Perrottet’s 2017 article remains insightful in 2021. He has since become the NSW Premier.
Perrottet begins by commenting on how suicide news stories always include links to Australian suicide prevention organizations, such as:
He then states:
It’s a dark, stark dissonance, and a confronting illustration of former prime minister Paul Keating’s observation that, if we make assisted suicide legal, “there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead”…
It’s got me wondering: if NSW or Victoria did cross that threshold, would news organisations continue to include the same potentially life-saving referral to suicide-prevention services in their reports? Or will that footnote need to be updated, with one message for those whose deaths the publishers wish to avert, and another for the people whose deaths they are happy to facilitate?
And what about the suicide prevention hotlines themselves? Will they screen out people whose wish to die sounds rational, and who may qualify under the relevant legislation, distinguishing them from the thousands of callers desperately seeking help to avoid the tragedy of suicide? Will those hotlines be asked to refer people who can legally end their own lives to places where they can get more information on how to go about it? Will the hotlines acquiesce in such requests?
Perrottet then brought up the issue of medical mistakes:
And what about mistakes? Our legal system prizes its cornerstone principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. The great jurist Lord Blackstone said, “Better that 10 guilty persons go free than that one innocent party suffer”. And yet, despite this, innocent people go to jail. Lawyers, juries, judges, police and witnesses all make mistakes, because the fact is, no human system of safeguards is infallible.
So with assisted suicide laws. Doctors will make mistakes. Victims will be pressured. Judgments will be clouded, and among all the arbitrary rules and safeguards, only one thing is absolutely certain: innocent people will die at the hands of these laws if they pass. At least the falsely imprisoned can be exonerated and freed years after the fact. For the innocent victims of assisted suicide laws there can be no long-awaited justice, just the silence of the grave.
This is the dark, dangerous void of confusion and contradiction that we are steering our society into if we back these bills.
He concluded his article by calling on legislators to oppose assisted suicide and support excellent end-of-life care.
We need to help those among us suffering through their darkest hour, not push them deeper into the ultimate darkness.
We need more and better palliative care – something we have significantly boosted in this year’s NSW state budget, and something that as Treasurer I will continue to push as a matter of priority.
We must not create a two-tier society of the worst possible kind: where there are those whose lives we desperately work to preserve, and those to whom we really will be saying, “You are better off dead”. I will be voting against the NSW legislation, and I call on all people of goodwill here in NSW and in Victoria to consider these issues and make their voices heard.
New South Wales is the only Australian state to not have legalised assisted suicide. I hope its MPs resist the “easy answer for people who want to avoid suffering” and defeat the “voluntary assisted dying” bill.