Euthanasia: The current state-of-play
15.12.2010 | Rebecca Belzer | Briefing 088Tweet
Euthanasia: The current state-of-play
Social Issues briefing #088, 15/12/2010.
Bills attempting to legalise euthanasia have failed to pass in Western Australia and South Australia, and a similar Bill has not yet proceeded in NSW. This is a clear signal that, contrary to the figures quoted by those in favour of euthanasia, many Australians are not comfortable with the notion of doctors assisting their patients to die, regardless of the so called ‘safeguards’.
In Western Australia, the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2010 was defeated by 24 votes to 11 on 22 September 2010. A similar bill in South Australia was also defeated.
In NSW, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill 2010 to legalize voluntary euthanasia in NSW, was not debated in the NSW Legislative Council. There will not be another opportunity to debate the bill prior to the election on 26 March 2011. Ms Cate Faehrmann, who introduced the NSW Bill, conceded on 25 November 2010 that the bill would not be able to be passed by the current parliament, but signalled her intention to bring it again to the next parliament as the opportunity arises.
In the Senate of the Australian Parliament, the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia) Bill 2010 was introduced by Senator Bob Brown. This Bill was seeking to overturn the prohibition on legalizing voluntary euthanasia in the Northern Territory, the ACT and Norfolk Island. This Bill has not yet been properly debated or voted on, although that may occur sometime in the new year.
Many politicians consider this Bill as an issue of territory rights and self-determination, rather than primarily about euthanasia. It is technically correct that this Bill affects the processes of governance in the Territories. In substance though, it is overtly motivated by the desire for euthanasia to become law in the Territories. This outcome is extremely concerning for Christians and others who oppose euthanasia, as it is easily possible to imagine a scenario where euthanasia becomes legal in the ACT.
It is reasonable to assume that if euthanasia became legal in any state or territory in Australia, similar legislation would have to be passed federally or in all other states, in order to avoid ‘death tourism’ – travel by euthanasia candidates to the places where it is legal.
Some thoughts on our attempts to engage with euthanasia
When Ms Faehrmann conceded that the NSW bill would not be debated, she referred to the ‘rigid ideology’ of those who oppose euthanasia:
‘It seems to me that rigid ideology drives the position of some in this debate, rather than a willingness to consider, debate and talk through public policy outcomes… We should not be scared of making our own laws [on euthanasia] even if other jurisdictions have chosen to do it slightly differently. But it is that idea that goes to the heart of the anti-voluntary euthanasia campaign. It is based on a philosophy that the views of one group in society should be imposed on all’ (emphasis ours).
The argument that conservatives seek to ‘impose their views on others’ is frequently raised when controversial changes are proposed and debated. Of course, all legal changes ‘impose’ something on someone.
But Ms Faehrmann’s frustration is understandable. She thinks it straightforward that people should be given what they want, when they want it. On this issue, she is an individualist. Supporting everyone’s right to choose sounds attractive, and proponents of euthanasia cannot understand why we resist such choice in this area.
However as a representative of the Greens party, she would willingly impose her values on others if they were logging, killing whales, or dumping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – and often quite rightly so. In these cases, she would have a deep regard for our common life together. A lot of what we do cannot be reduced to individual wants and choices. Those who oppose euthanasia think that the way we treat each other at the end of life is precisely such an area.
Christian opposition to euthanasia arises from a desire to find the best way to care for those around us. In the Bible, Jesus models an attitude of concern for our neighbour, over and above concern for ourselves. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with choosing what we each like. But society also needs networks of relationships and love. The care (and funding for care) that we give to each other at the end of life is such a delicate network of care. To propel individual choice to the centre of this care will corrode and eventually destroy it.
If voluntary euthanasia caused even one person to feel isolated, pressured and ultimately coerced into giving up their life, we have begun to stop caring. So, we continue to gently and lovingly explain that rather than a society where individuals stand on their ‘rights’, we want a society that cares for each other.
Where to from here?
It can be disconcerting to take a stand on a political issue, by writing a letter to a politician or signing a petition against euthanasia, then to be left wondering about what happened. Hopefully, you can see that if you took some action, your efforts were not in vain.
We want to thank those who gave some time to this political debate. In NSW, petitions against euthanasia were tabled in the NSW Legislative Council on 10 out of 15 possible sitting days in October, November and December. We should not underestimate the significance of petitions, letters and visits to political representatives. These probably did have some effect on the outcomes in WA, SA and NSW. The Federal outcome is yet to be determined.
It is likely that this issue will arise again in 2011, both at Commonwealth and State levels. It is important not to be disheartened by these ongoing attempts to legalize the killing of the sick. We want to show an alternative way. We don’t have to abandon others in their sometimes desperate final days. There are better ways to help them.
- Rebecca Belzer
(for the Social Issues Executive,
Anglican Diocese of Sydney)
Andrew Cameron, ‘Euthanazing fear: why it won’t work’, Social Issues briefing #087, 14/12/2010, http://www.sie.org.au/briefings/euthanizing_fear_why_it_wont_work/
Cate Faehrmann, ‘Euthanasia’, Adjournment Speech to NSW Legislative Council, 25 Nov 2010, http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/hansart.nsf/V3Key/LC20101125058
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- 2008 submission to Senate Inquiry into euthanasia laws repeal Bill
- AHRC “Freedom of Religion and Belief Project” Information Hour
- An Australian human rights framework: towards a Christian response.
- An Evangelical Rationale for Social Action
- Death in the Sudan
Conditions of use:
- You may forward this paper to others, as long as you forward it in full.
- You may freely publish it (e.g. in a church newspaper) as long as it is published in full, not for profit, and including the ‘Note’ paragraph. (You don’t have to include these ‘conditions’.)
- Media and academic publishers should cite this paper according to their professional standards. We would appreciate audiences being directed to socialissues.org.au.
- Not-for-profit publishers may use the ideas in this paper without acknowledgement; but if quoting it directly, please cite title, authors, and the web link socialissues.org.au.