July 2nd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY CFA dispute may end up burning Victorian Labor electorally

CANBERRA OBSERVED July 2: Independence Day or Groundhog Day?

EDITORIAL Expect shockwaves as Britain votes on EU exit

CLIMATE CHANGE Coral bleaching way overdone by reef saviours

EUTHANASIA Victorian report closer to truth in dissenting voices

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump v Clinton race revealing of state of U.S.

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgenderism and the triumph of marketing

EDUCATION Deconstruction and other rot at school

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS Two heretics: Hilaire Belloc and R.H. Tawney

FREE SPEECH From disagreement to discrimination: section 18C

LITERATURE Tolkien, Golding and Hell

SOCIETY New lease on life for freedom machine

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT Talent shows grind down singers, grind out drivel

CINEMA Puppet people pull the plug: Me Before You


BOOK REVIEW Friendship under fire

Books promotion page

Victorian report closer to truth in dissenting voices

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, July 2, 2016

“Vulnerable people – the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed – would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death.”


British House of Lords

The Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament has handed down its report into end-of-life choices in Victoria. The extensive report makes some valuable comments and recommendations in respect to improvement in palliative care.

Inga Peulich, left, and Daniel Mulino

It acknowledges that access to palliative care is patchy, is overburdened and needs improvement. In a country rated recently as second in an international table for end-of-life care, it still remains that the availability of such care is more closely related to postcode than it is to need.

The committee heard from many individuals whose family members had passed away in circumstances that were clearly far from what all Victorians would want and certainly far from best practice. The committee seems to take it as read that such cases are compelling proof that Victoria needs a regimen of “assisted dying” – euthanasia or assisted suicide. Few, I contend, are that clear.

While family members submitting their stories to the committee often (but not always) called for legislative change, the submissions and stories may well have been evidence of poor care, lack of care options or, indeed, refusal of good care options; we simply do not know. For the committee to seem to have accepted so easily that poor deaths require the state of Victoria to help people to suicide is a travesty as much as it is the abandonment of people in great need.

Certainly, the admission that palliative care is still not able to meet the needs of Victorians is an important one and we welcome all policy and planning decisions that bridge the gap between need and availability. However, the committee seems intent that, for those who cannot access such care, being made dead is an option. This is a failure of the committee’s stated aims to improve choice; suicide in such circumstances is no choice at all.

Of course, when the committee talks about “assisted dying” they mean euthanasia or assisted suicide, or both. That they seem so reluctant to call a spade a spade is rather telling. And that this is being characterised as a solution for disability is scandalous.

No more potent example of disability discrimination exists currently than the new Hollywood movie, Me Before You, in which a quadriplegic young man commits suicide in a Swiss clinic. Disability advocates around the globe are outraged by the depiction of disability as being “worse than death”, going so far as to call the movie “disability snuff porn” and asking people to boycott the film.

That the makers of this film simply don’t get the problem speaks to the reality that many in the disability community talk about; being made to feel that death is better than disability. The Victorian Parliament has, perhaps unwittingly, only reaffirmed those concerns.

The committee seems to be claiming a mandate for action when no mandate exists. Approximately 78 per cent of substantive submissions (submissions of detail and from health providers, institutes, lobby groups and so on) were either against euthanasia and assisted suicide or were neutral and preferring to focus on end-of-life care more generally. Overall, the total submissions were about 56 per cent in favour with the remainder either being opposed (35 per cent) or neutral (7.3 per cent).

The clear mandate is for better palliative care.

Failing to gain any publicity are the two dissenting reports by members of the committee. They are appended in the table of contents under one line, yet they comprise a far more robust analysis of the available evidence than the entire Majority Report.

Inga Peulich MLC summarises the concerns about human destruction via assisted suicide well: “Any accidental loss of life – even the loss of one life – means such a regime cannot be justified, just as the loss of life, due to capital punishment, deliberate or due to a possible miscarriage of justice, cannot be justified and was the reason for its abolition.”

Daniel Mulino MLC’s analysis should be read before the Majority Report. It forms not only a sound academic and rigorous approach but also, by implication, is damning of the narrow, outcome focus of the Majority Report: “Moreover, the rapid growth in documented cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide probably materially understates the actual prevalence of the practice. There is a widespread failure of safeguards and procedures across jurisdictions, including low rates of reporting.

“While legalisation was supposed to bring what was occurring in the shadows into the light, legalisation has simply pushed the boundary of what is legal out further and may have increased the amount of activity that occurs beyond the sight of regulators.”

Even tempered and thorough, Mr Mulino concludes: “The Majority Report asserts that the evidence is ‘clear’ that safeguards work in jurisdictions with legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. A balanced reading of the evidence would lead one to conclude that such an unequivocal statement is not true.”

We hope that the government of the day will see through this charade and act at all times to protect vulnerable people while prioritising palliative care.

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