September 13th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY / EDITORIAL: How America's choice will affect Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Rudd's threat to close non-performing schools

FOREIGN INVESTMENT: Stronger rules needed on foreign investment

AGRICULTURE: High stakes in federal quarantine inquiry

EDUCATION: Reflections on home-schooling

UNITED NATIONS: Australia should not sign UN women's rights protocol

VICTORIA: Victoria battles over so-called 'right to kill'

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Bid to tax churches out of existence?

ADVERTISING: Protests force removal of offensive billboards

CHINA: How China topped the Olympic gold medal tally

UNITED STATES: Michelle Obama's separationist view of race

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Migration debate revisited / Migrating on the SS Urea (1970) / 2008 postscript

Mandated medical malpractice (letter)

BOOKS: ON BURCHETT, by Tibor Méray, Tibor Meray

BOOKS: THE ISRAEL LOBBY and US Foreign Policy, by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

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Victoria battles over so-called 'right to kill'

by Luke McCormack and Tim Cannon

News Weekly, September 13, 2008
Bills to remove all legal restraints on abortion and to legalise physician-assisted suicide will soon be voted on in Victoria's parliament. Luke McCormack and Tim Cannon report.

The next eight weeks will decide the fate of tens of thousands of human lives, and consequently millions of future Victorians. Premier John Brumby believes that the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008, set to be debated in Victoria's parliamentary lower house between September 9 and 11, is reflective of community standards and current practice.

This could not be further from the truth.

Earlier this year, retired barrister Charles Francis QC, who has acted on behalf of women and successfully sued abortionists for damages, wrote, "The law on abortion in Victoria is governed by [sections] 65 and 66 of the Crimes Act, the Child Destruction Act s10, and the Menhennitt ruling in 1969. Under that ruling an abortion is only lawful if ... necessary to preserve the woman's life or health from serious danger. Following the Menhennitt ruling, the abortion industry in Victoria gradually flourished." (The Law Institute Journal, March 2008).

Ignorance about abortion procedures, the trauma suffered by women who undergo the procedure and the law itself, is rife amongst politicians.

Victorian state Liberal opposition leader Ted Baillieu has declared that the abortion bill, which seeks to decriminalise abortion, is designed to protect the woman from prosecution, obviously unaware that, under current abortion law, it is the abortionist, not the mother, who is legally culpable (AAP, August 19).

Meanwhile, "pro-choice" lobbyists talk about the right to end unwanted pregnancies as if a unique living human being was not involved.

The bill, by completely removing all criminal and common law restraints on abortion, will act as a green light for the ever-growing abortion industry. Even late-term abortion would be legal as long as the abortionist has a colleague who agrees that the abortion is "appropriate". No signatures, no records, no consultations and no penalties.

In fact, doctors who conscientiously object, will have to make referrals to pro-abortion GPs, and even be prepared to perform so-called emergency abortions!

The abortion bill does not even fake an interest in protecting vulnerable women from coercion or from abortion's long list of health risks. The question should be asked, "Exactly who was this bill framed for?" The answer is - the lucrative abortion industry.

It is expected that Victoria's lower house will pass the bill, and the upper house will debate it during one of its October sitting weeks.

All opponents of the bill will be encouraged to rally in protest on Saturday, September 6, in the annual "Free to be Born" march. This may be the most important march in Victoria's history of defending basic human rights.

Prescribing death

The right-to-die lobby is nothing if not persistent. Since the Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was overturned in 1997, 11 attempts at legalising assisted-suicide have been made in Australian state parliaments, none of them successful.

The latest effort, a Victorian private member's bill, has limped another month through the state's upper house, with debate to resume in September. Support for the bill is waning, as MPs become increasingly aware of its dangerous consequences.

Several members have criticised the manifest inadequacy of the bill's safeguards. They have noted, for example, that the bill does nothing to protect vulnerable patients from being coerced by family members or carers into requesting suicide.

Neither does it penalise doctors who fail to observe the bill's minimal requirements, instead reserving penalty for doctors who conscientiously refuse to refer patients to a suicide-friendly doctor.

Importantly, members noted the legislation's inherent bias, a result of its having been drafted by prominent assisted-suicide group, "Dying With Dignity Victoria".

However, several state MPs who spoke against the bill refused to oppose assisted-suicide in principle, instead calling for more rigorously safeguarded legislation.

For her part, the bill's co-sponsor, Colleen Hartland, has made known her willingness to consider any amendments which might facilitate the bill's passage. Upper house Liberal member Philip Davis suggested that the bill be referred to a parliamentary committee, which might recommend appropriate amendments following a thorough inquiry; and the Government has indicated that it would allow time for this.

Regardless, it is unlikely that a committee would recommend satisfactory safeguards for legislation of this kind for two reasons.

First, the ineffectiveness of safeguards in jurisdictions which have legalised assisted-suicide (such as the US state of Oregon) has been widely reported in recent months. Second, parliamentary inquiries into assisted-suicide, both in Australia and overseas, have invariably concluded that the practice poses too great a threat to the community to be safely legislated.

A lengthy petition condemning assisted-suicide was tabled during the August debate, reflecting mounting community opposition to the bill. It is hoped that, with the sustained efforts of Victorian constituents, this bill will share the fate of its 11 unsuccessful predecessors.

- Luke McCormack and Tim Cannon.

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