On Friday afternoon, it seemed that Australia was just a whisker away from legalising assisted suicide. A marathon 26 hour sitting of the lower house of the Victorian state parliament on Thursday and Friday ended on Friday morning with a majority of 47 to 37 voting for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017.
Although MPs have a conscience vote, the Labor Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, and his Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, have given it their full support. As a measure of how perfect they believe their bill is, 141 amendments failed.
Analysts believe that the result of the Victorian bill will have a massive impact on the outcome of euthanasia debates in other Australian States and territories. New South Wales is currently debating very similar legislation to that proposed in Victoria, and Western Australia has convened a parliamentary committee to examine “end of life choices”. In Tasmania and South Australia the issue is very much alive.
The bill permits assisted suicide and euthanasia for terminally ill patients with less than 12 months to live.
However, it no longer looks certain to pass in the Upper House when it is debated next week. Supporters of the bill have been calculating that it would pass by a margin of 23 to 17. However, according to a report in today’s Australian, two or three members of the Upper House decided to oppose the bill after reading an essay by former Labor Prime-Minister Paul Keating in the Sydney Morning Herald. A politician known for his savage demolition of opponents and their policies, Keating described the bill as “bald utopianism”. The column has sparked “intense debate” in Labor circles, according to The Australian. Here are a few paragraphs from Keating’s column:
The justifications offered by the bill's advocates – that the legal conditions are stringent or that the regime being authorised will be conservative – miss the point entirely. What matters is the core intention of the law. What matters is the ethical threshold being crossed. What matters is that under Victorian law there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead.
In both practical and moral terms, it is misleading to think allowing people to terminate their life is without consequence for the entire society. Too much of the Victorian debate has been about the details and conditions under which people can be terminated and too little about the golden principles that would be abandoned by our legislature…
An alarming aspect of the debate is the claim that safeguards can be provided at every step to protect the vulnerable. This claim exposes the bald utopianism of the project – the advocates support a bill to authorise termination of life in the name of compassion, while at the same time claiming they can guarantee protection of the vulnerable, the depressed and the poor…
Opposition to this bill is not about religion. It is about the civilisational ethic that should be at the heart of our secular society. The concerns I express are shared by people of any religion or no religion. In public life it is the principles that matter. They define the norms and values of a society and in this case the principles concern our view of human life itself. It is a mistake for legislators to act on the deeply held emotional concerns of many when that involves crossing a threshold that will affect the entire society in perpetuity.
The head of the Australian Medical Association, Michael Gannon, also expressed his staunch opposition to the bill last week:
We have all experienced loss. Many of us have suffered the tragedy of watching a parent, child or spouse die. This grief never leaves people. It informs their opinions.
However, highly emotional stories of the grief felt subsequent to watching a loved one die do not constitute an intellectual argument in favour of EPAS. …
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are at odds with modern and ancient codes of medical ethics. Every life is precious: the 10-year-old boy in Roebourne with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and severe autism, the 36-year-old veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, the 68-year-old woman in Morwell with metastatic cancer and no children to be with her as she dies.”
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.