Is Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Inevitable in Australia?
Paul RussellAn antagonistic journalist once asked me what it felt like to be on the wrong side of history. He was baiting me. He was suggesting that euthanasia laws are inevitable.
That's a big question and one not easily answered. 'History' is not simply a moment in time, a decade or even a century. So to judge whether I find myself on the 'right side' of history is more than simply a reflection upon what some might claim to be 'inevitable'.
In that broader picture I am certain that history will vindicate our opposition. It already has when you look at the developments in places like Belgium and Holland since 2002. Their experience is peppered with alarm bells and warnings. As Dutch Professor Theo Boer warned a few years ago: "Don't go there!" For anyone who cares to look objectively, the jury has spoken.
Canada has only relatively recently engaged state sanctioned suicide; but, even there, the cracks are already painfully visible.
In the short term, it is sobering to recall the old aphorism that those proposing change only have to win once; we need to win every single time. So far, since the overturning of the first euthanasia laws in the world in our Federal Parliament in 1997, we have a perfect record. Should one state change, however, as many observe, there will be a domino effect across the country and even to New Zealand.
And while there are 'rumblings' in almost every Australian State at the moment, the real and present threat lies in Victoria. There's nothing like momentum; and, even though a bill was defeated in South Australia late last year, pressure is building 'over the border'.
According to Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, a panel of experts will draft a bill and present it to him in mid-2017 with the intention that his government will present the bill to parliament in August. We have seen before - many times - how 'expert' panels have convened with the intention of making a law and not, as one might expect, to discuss whether or not to make a law.
This panel was convened in response to a recommendation of a parliamentary committee which reported mid last year. Sadly, this committee did not grapple with the substantive issues either, preferring cynically to simply state the known case both for and against without any engagement. This is bad politics.
And so, Victorians of good will who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide have approximately six months before the debate begins in earnest.
There's a well-tested truth in euthanasia and assisted suicide debates that tells us that the longer a debate runs, the less likely it is to pass. This is simply because our arguments, which don't fit easily into our seven-second-sound-bite world, need time to be heard and understood.
And so, we do have an advantage both in having this next six months available to us and in knowing when the debate is likely to begin on Spring Street. We need to use the time well.
So, what should we do?
Firstly, make a commitment now to keep this matter front of mind for the next six to eight months. It's a long haul; we need to pace ourselves.
Then, write a letter - yes, a hand-written letter - to your district and regional MPs. That's six letters in all. They don't need to be tomes, nor can they address the problems with the bill (because we haven't seen it yet). Just make one or two paragraphs at most about why you oppose euthanasia.
Make a plan to write to your local newspaper. Again, keep it short and to the point. It need not be in response to anything in the media; it's just your thoughts.
Get your friends involved! The more the merrier! Your members of parliament need to know, at this early stage, that there is strong and reasoned opposition in their community.
Spend a little time with friends and maybe your church leadership, if you belong to one, and discuss ways of helping people in your community get involved. Think about visiting your MPs, for example. There are many possibilities!
Remember always that your elected representatives are people too! Give them and those who support euthanasia the respect and dignity that we all deserve.
In support of all of this, get connected! Follow the issue in a deliberate way by reading good blogs and news services to stay up to date.
Can we maintain the blanket ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide laws this year and beyond? The answer is a clear yes – but it will take commitment and engagement. Let's get to it!