Latest newsletter #152 Click to read online

Euthanasia an Imminent Threat in the ACT

by Kath Woolf

At present the ACT and the Northern Territory lack the power to legalise euthanasia because of the Euthanasia Laws Act 1996. Observers of this life and death battle between those who defend life and those who would take it are well acquainted with the efforts of Greens Senator Bob Brown in a series of Bills moved by him from 2007-2012 in the Federal Parliament to repeal that legislation. His efforts have been taken up by Greens Senator Di Natale’s Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Amendment Bill 2012.

In expectation of the success of Senator Di Natale’s Bill the push for community acceptance of euthanasia in the ACT is strong and growing. The Canberra-based ‘think tank’, Australia 21, is busy relaying propaganda supporting ‘voluntary euthanasia’ to the ACT. An extensive article by one of its members, Bob Douglas, in the Canberra Times earlier this year perversely stated that legalised euthanasia has worked well in the Netherlands and Belgium.
My reply, citing official reports that ‘voluntary euthanasia’ moves inevitably to involuntary euthanasia, and the ‘eligible’ targets extend to the frail aged, babies, and generally those with physical and/or mental disabilities, was refused publication despite my repeated contact with the Editor.

As Dr Philip Nitschke has said, success in any State would “put immense pressure on other States” and the best chance is where there is a Labor-Greens coalition. The Greens proeuthanasia stance is well-known; less well-known is the approval of euthanasia in the ACT ALP Branch Platform 2008-2009. With a Labor-Greens coalition returned in the 2012 ACT Assembly elections, the ACT is ripe for the passage of a euthanasia Bill if the power to legislate were returned. The ACT, easily reached by air from all major population centres, would be a convenient place to introduce euthanasia into Australia. The threat of legalised euthanasia is highlighted by the announcement in late July that Nitschke intends to stand for one of the two ACT Senate seats. And it is instructive to note that, whatever the outcome of the coming Federal elections, there will still be at least six Greens Senators who most likely will hold the balance of power.

A pro-euthanasia organisation, Dying with Dignity ACT, is busily promoting acceptance of euthanasia. The group has lobbied the ACT Labor Attorney-General Corbell, Greens Minister for Ageing Rattenbury, Labor MLA Mary Porter to legalise euthanasia and urged the ACT Human Rights Commissioner to declare euthanasia a human right. In May the ACT government sponsored an End-of-Life Issues Forum at the Australian National University. The organisers declared that the Forum was to explore how patients could make clear their wishes about treatment by making out documents like Advance Directives. Conditions for conduct of the forum were that Euthanasia was not a topic and displayed materials from community groups were not to canvass the issue. However, the ACT Chief Minister in opening the Forum referred to Senator Di Natale’s Bill and the effect its passage would have on expanding the powers of the Territory. Literature displayed included that of Exit International.

There is much irony in all of this as Australian governments expend endless energy and money on committees enquiring into the tragic toll of suicide in Australia on individuals, families and communities. It is a criminal offence to directly or indirectly counsel or incite a person to commit or attempt to commit suicide or to provide through electronic means suicide related material (see Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) ss 474.29A and 474.29B). In July 2006,the Council of Australian Governments by the National Action Plan on Mental Health 2006 –2011, agreed to improve mental health services through promotion and prevention programmes, including suicide prevention. In 2010 the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced funding of $274m to work with State, Territory and local governments to reduce the suicide rate by the year 2020.

ACT Health Minister, Ms Gallagher released Managing the Risk of Suicide: A Suicide Prevention Strategy for the ACT 2009–2014. The Report recognised that suicide has profound emotional, social and economic effects on families, friends and the whole community. A recent study conducted by the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre found that 12% of males between 22 and 25 interviewed had thoughts of taking their lives and 2% had attempted to do so. Other high risk groups include the mentally ill and indigenous persons. The ACT Report identified effective strategies for reducing suicide and self-harm include community education in suicide prevention, funding for schools’ peer support programs, and strengthening continuity of care arrangement for individuals at high risk.

Yet legalised euthanasia would undo much of the reduction in suicide rates which this ACT government program worthily aims to achieve. If the law allows persons suffering pain or terminal illness to be killed legally, then experience shows that the practice would soon spread to persons of any age who find life stressful. Indeed, Dr Nitschke has advocated a free choice of death for “troubled teens’ and the availability of lethal drugs in the supermarket.

Euthanasia? NO! (A.C.T.) was formed by a group of prolifers in December 2012 in response to the increasing and relentless pressure to promote community acceptance of euthanasia in the Australian Capital Territory. All forms of media run pro-euthanasia propaganda with little space given to the opposing arguments. Unfortunately pro-euthanasia arguments are being swallowed by the public if opinion polls are to be believed. The plain truth is that ‘voluntary euthanasia’ is simply assisted suicide, whether the prescribed lethal dose/injection is self-administered or by a medical professional. This is the message that is being obscured by emotional appeals to hard cases.

Euthanasia? NO! (A.C.T.) has begun a program of education through churches, publishing and lobbying. While the group is totally supportive of other pro-life organisations which defend life from conception to natural death, it is convinced that its present emphasis should be to combat the challenge of legal euthanasia.

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