Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Euthanasia bill a tragedy

Peter Kurti

16 December 2020 | DAILY TELEGRAPH

Even as experts fret about the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of the vulnerable, with a possible spike in suicides, greater access to voluntary death is spreading gradually across Australia.

Victoria and Western Australia have already legalised regimes that allow doctors to euthanise patients who request it. Queensland will almost certainly follow in 2021.

Political leaders have glimpsed an opportunity to shore up support because it appears that making it legal to ask a doctor to kill you is becoming increasingly popular.

In NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has done well in leading the state through the Covid crisis. But her authority has softened in recent weeks and now she needs to rebuild support.

Unfortunately, she appears to have been seduced by responses in other states into thinking that the way to secure her political future is by peddling a progressive line on key issues.

But she copped a backlash from her party, and from Coalition voters, over relaxation of abortion laws a year ago. And recent proposals to water down drug laws met a similar response.

They say that when things go wrong they come in threes; and Berejiklian has proved the rule with the reaction now provoked by proposals to legalise euthanasia in NSW.

To be sure, the proposed legislation was dreamed up not by the Coalition but by the progressive, independent MP, Alex Greenwich, who wants the bill passed next year.

But Berejiklian’s Coalition party room is insisting that when the time to vote comes, the government stands firm against legalising euthanasia by not permitting a conscience vote.

The politics of legalising physician-assisted suicide may have worked for the premiers of Victoria and WA. And they might yet work for Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland.

But in NSW, any perceived softening of the government’s stand against euthanasia may lead not to electoral triumph but to defeat — and may even yet cost the Premier her job.

Coalition supporters didn’t vote for legalised euthanasia at the ballot box. Nor is it likely they ever expected the Berejiklian government to throw its weight behind such a move.

Many are puzzled why the Premier should choose to expend her valuable political capital on progressive issues that are neither mainline nor a natural fit with a Coalition platform.

The answer is probably that she has picked up scents wafting across the country on winds of change; whispering that ‘freedom and autonomy in death’ are human rights.

No better example of these powerful, but distorting assertions can be found than in the case pressed by advocates of legalising physician-assisted suicide.

Arguments in favour of euthanasia — or ‘voluntary assisted dying’, as advocates prefer to call it — are invariably cast in terms of dignity, autonomy, and release from suffering.

The language of rights is used to assert that society’s commitment to fundamental respect for human life must be set aside on the whim of an individual who wants to end their life.

But rights rhetoric used to promote ‘dying with dignity’ is actually an inversion of the very principle of a ‘right’ that was developed to protect the individual against the state.

Now, however, ‘rights’ have been commandeered to promote the wants and needs of the individual, including the desire, on the part of some, for self-destruction.

Advocates always promise that any regime of legalised killing by doctors will be very narrow with clearly defined categories. They always assure us it will not become a free-for-all.

In fact, all the evidence points the other way. It’s too early to assess operation of the Victorian regime which was enacted only 18 months ago.

But in the Netherlands, pressure for widening availability of medicalised suicide has grown and there have been cases in which children applied for, and were granted, euthanasia.

And while advocates insist it is intended only to end ‘unbearable pain’, euthanasia has been accessed in Oregon by those simply tired of life who didn’t want to be a burden to others.

One reason the cult of euthanasia has swelled in popularity is that the equally powerful cult of the individual has predominated in our society.

Behind calls for a ‘right to die’ stands a view of society composed simply of self-interested individuals intent upon severing all social obligations when they see fit.

Suicide in Australia is a national tragedy. Far too many people — especially young people — take their own lives every year, leaving families baffled and bereaved.

If we that take seriously the well-being of all members of our society, whether young or old, we must take a firm stand against any hint that the deliberate ending of life is ‘dignified’.

Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies, and also Adjunct Associate Professor of Law the University of Notre Dame Australia


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