In February Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings and the leader of the Greens, Nick McKim, released a discussion paper on euthanasia seeking submissions and input from the community on a draft proposal for legislation they referred to as voluntary assisted dying (VAD). Their intention to work towards this legislative change had been originally announced in mid-2010.

“Any debate on voluntary assisted dying is going to be difficult, but as elected representatives we believe it is our responsibility to take on the challenging questions of reform to ensure that our laws in this area are contemporary, transparent and in-line with community expectations.”

We understand that there were in excess of 900 responses to the discussion paper. The closing date for submissions was March 15. Giddings and McKim gave no undertaking in the paper that they would produce a summary of the responses findings and with the bill to be debated in a week, there is no sign that they intend to share the results for the benefit of the discussion and transparency.

At the time of the paper’s launch, Real Dignity Tasmania spokesman Dr Paul Dunne made the following observation:

“The paper employs selective and deficient research, much of which is funded by known pro-euthanasia advocates, designed to paint a picture of flawless implementation of legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide systems around the world. The main authorities cited by Giddings and McKim are the result of known pro-euthanasia initiatives. Key evidence has been ignored in this paper.”

Also aware of this bias, the HOPE submission argued for a broader public discussion:

“Given that this presentation provides the VAD paper with an ‘advanced status of authority’ we believe that it is inappropriate for the VAD paper to stand in the public square without the same opportunity being advanced to the contrary argument.” 

This all adds to the conclusion that this whole affair is essentially an exercise in gnostic paternalism. All of us, for reasons unknown, should trust that Giddings and McKim have done all the hard work of study for us, so we needn’t worry ourselves over the detail but simply accept that they know what’s best for Tasmanians!

The HOPE submission concluded with this warning:

“Without a conscious attempt by the authors of the VAD paper to provide public access to the contrary argument on a par with that afforded the VAD; Tasmanians will have been denied the opportunity to exercise rational judgement – choice. The authors, in advancing their agenda, need also to observe the precautionary principle, with the highest standards of proof, lest, without such appropriate scrutiny, Tasmanian citizens are put at risk of their lives by such legislation.”

With a week until the Tasmanian parliament resumes, two local academics have released their own report on the discussion paper. Jeremy Pritchard holds a PhD in law and is a Researcher and Lecturer at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) in the field of Criminology. Hannah Graham is an Associate Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology and a Research Assistant in the Faculty of Law at UTAS.

Their 34-page analysis, “Voluntary Euthanasia and ‘Assisted Dying’ in Tasmania: A Response to Giddings and McKim”, is highly critical:

“…the paper produced by Giddings and McKim does not constitute a compelling evidence-based case for changing the law. The risks of proceeding with the model that they propose are not justified.”

They observe that:

“A number of the claims that they make inappropriately imply concrete facts”(ie, sentiments along the lines of ‘the evidence has spoken’ and ‘our research shows…’) without acknowledging the depth of international contention on certain topics.”

“…significant amounts of empirical evidence and alternative academic and professional perspectives have been understated or omitted in their paper.”

”We look at what is being proposed and what is missing. In particular, we analyse what is missing from Giddings and McKim’s portrayal of the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying in jurisdictions, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon.”

The author’s media statement today provides a good summary:

“We felt that a response in the form of a research paper was necessary because Lara Giddings and Nick McKim’s paper, to our view, understates the complexity of international evidence and debate on the topic of euthanasia. Our paper disagrees with a number of their claims and incorporates literature which was not included in their document. We reference over 180 sources, mainly academic publications and government reports.”

Giddings and McKim’s paper relied substantially upon certain select academic papers cited without due regard for known criticisms. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, they cited the Royal Society of Canada report, the UK Commission on Assisted Dying and a recent report from the Australia 21 think-tank, which all adopted a similar line of argument and omitted or dismissed references to studies and analyses that put the counter-argument.

One could observe that such circular and almost exclusive referencing (each report building upon the others) was a potential “perfect storm” in the making. Nor is it a stretch to observe that, whether deliberate or not, the absence of serious critique of the “vulnerable persons” question could leave the authors of these papers open to a claim that this could, itself, constitute abuse by neglect.

Graham and Pritchard deal with the issues of elder abuse, Ddsability, feminist perspectives, and slippery slope arguments as well as a thorough review of the literature pertaining to Belgium, The Netherlands, Oregon and the Fleming Court case in Ireland.

They conclude:

“Based on the evidence and experiences presented in this paper, we conclude that there are unjustifiable risks in proceeding with the euthanasia law reform proposed by Giddings and McKim.”

The same might also be said for the debates current in Quebec, England and Scotland.

We eagerly await a reply from the Premier and Mr McKim.

Paul Russell is Executive Director of HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide and is Vice Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International. This article has been republished with permission from his blog

Paul Russell is director and founder of the national network HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide. Paul has been involved in...