Euthanasia & Senator Brown’s Enabling Bills

The first legislation in the world allowing euthanasia was the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 [ROTI Act] which was passed by the Northern Territory (NT) and which became law on 1 July 1996. It was repealed by the Commonwealth Euthanasia Laws Act 1997.

Since 2007 Senator Brown has tried to return the power to legalise euthanasia in the Australian Territories by a number of Bills. His latest effort is the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia) Bill 2010. If this Bill is passed there is no doubt that there will be a Bill approving euthanasia will be presented in the ACT Legislative Assembly. The ACT Government is a coalition of Labor (7 Members of the Assembly + 4 Greens Members); the policy platform of the ACT Branch of the ALP and of the Greens includes legalising euthanasia.

Senator Brown has another Bill before the Federal Parliament: the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010 (the ‘Territories Bill’), which would remove the Federal Government’s ability to quash Territory laws through executive action, that is, the Governor- General’s acting on the advice of the Government. This would mean that to quash a Territory law, which, for example legalised euthanasia or same-sex marriage, a Bill would need to be approved by both Houses of the Federal Parliament. Brown is confident that this would never succeed as the Greens now have 9 Senators from 1 July 2011 holding the ‘balance of power’ in the Senate.

As has been demonstrated in Belgium and Holland, the practice of Euthanasia too easily spreads from requiring a person’s permission to be killed to that ‘choice’ being assumed in instances of those unable to make it for themselves. It is reported that one third of ‘euthanasia’ deaths in Belgium have occurred without the person’s permission; similar statistics are recorded in Holland. Further, there quickly follows advocacy that persons eligible for euthanasia should include the handicapped and the mentally disturbed; again this can be observed by developments in Belgium and Holland. As our Prime Minister has said, it is almost impossible to construct legislative safeguards to restrict the killing to the circumstances the legislators originally intended.

It is also the case that unassisted suicide is not illegal in Australia; nonetheless it is to be discouraged, affecting as it does the disadvantaged and many suffering from mental illness. Legislating the deliberate killing of persons runs counter to Federal initiatives to reduce the suicide rate. Certainly it is not wise to make killers of our doctors, whose brief is to save life where reasonably possible.

Pro-euthanasia Bills have been defeated in South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA) in the last few years through great effort; there are more such Bills still waiting for presentation to the parliaments in Tasmania, NSW and SA. If Brown succeeds with his Bills it will be hard to defeat a pro-euthanasia Bill in the ACT. If euthanasia comes to the national capital it will disastrously affect the outcome of the struggle in all jurisdictions in Australian; in all probability it will be the ‘wedge in the door’ facilitating the passage of similar legislation in other States.

The Federal Parliament consists of 150 Members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators. Of these the ACT has 2 MHRs and 2 Senators. Each State has 12 Senators and the Northern Territory 2 Senators. This means that the representatives of the States will determine the fate of the Territories.

It is therefore essential, if the introduction of Euthanasia is to be stopped, that you lobby your Senators (and your local Federal Member) urgently to dissuade them from passing Brown’s Bill when Parliament resumes after the winter break.

If these Bills pass, your representatives will be responsible for the introduction of euthanasia not just to a territory but throughout Australia.

  • Senator Brown’s interest in so-called Territory ‘rights’ is not sincere. He is only interested in clearing the way for the passage of euthanasia laws in the place most likely to legalise euthanasia, the Australian Capital Territory; if his Bills about the Territories pass, Greens Senators will block any Federal parliamentary attempts to quash Territory pro-euthanasia laws.
  • the ACT Government is a coalition of Labor and Greens; the ACT Branch of the ALP approves of euthanasia and the Greens have always been in favour of euthanasia;
  • it would be most unfortunate if the ACT were to become the ‘death capital’ of Australia. This would disgrace our national capital;
  • if the ACT legalises euthanasia the practice would soon undermine people in the States who have in recent times defeated a number of pro-euthanasia attempts in their State parliaments;
  • when euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory for a brief time in 1996-7 The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, reported that fatigue, fragility, and depression caused more suffering to patients than any pain from their condition. The patients were offered no treatment for their depression and all applicants were approved for lethal injection;
  • there is a high correlation between suicide and depression; some 7% to 14 % of adolescents will self harm at some time and up to 45% of older adolescents report suicidal thoughts. Government and many non-government agencies work hard to prevent suicide. It is dangerous to make assisted suicide legal; assistance is what is needed for the suicidal;
  • the law should not compound the suffering of victims of depressive illness and of their families by encouraging suicide rather than providing the help they obviously need;
  • those in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide say a person has a right to choose to die. This ‘freedom’ involves medical staff and quickly undermines medical ethics;
  • making lawful a person’s ‘choice’ to be killed by a doctor will increase pressure on the depressed, the frail, the elderly, the chronically ill and the handicapped to request euthanasia. People in those circumstances often feel they are a burden on relatives and consuming too much of society’s resources;
  • experience with legalised euthanasia in Holland shows that at least 1000 persons are killed every year without their consent. Three official reports since 1990 state that half of these patients had not discussed euthanasia with a doctor nor expressed a wish to be relieved of suffering. 79 percent of these patients were mentally incompetent. Another 5000 patients annually were given terminal sedation without explicit request.
  • the erosion of medical ethics seems to swiftly follow the legalisation of killing by doctors. The practice too easily spreads from requiring a person’s permission to be killed to that ‘choice’ being assumed in the case of those unable to make it for themselves.
  • in recent years the parliaments of Britain, Scotland, France and Canada and a number of USA States have rejected legal euthanasia or assisted suicide.

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