October 22nd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Bill Shorten imposes his political will on the nation

UKRAINE Russia responsible for MH17 crash: investigation

EDITORIAL Learning the lessons of SA power meltdown

THE ECONOMY Warnings call for new economic policies

CULTURE WARS Shame, pride and the AFL's arrogant posturing

OBITUARY Shimon Peres: last of Israel's elder statesmen

REGIONAL AFFAIRS Shifts in Australia-Indonesia relations

EUTHANASIA Paul Kelly makes the case against euthanasia

MANUFACTURING Australia's once and future car industry

MUSIC The dolorous tale of the disappearing tail

CINEMA In praise of professionalism: Sully

BOOK REVIEWS ASIO in the spotlight: official history vols I & II


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Paul Kelly makes the case against euthanasia

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, October 22, 2016

Senior journalist and editor-at-large for The Australian Paul Kelly has kicked back hard against what some of his journalist colleagues have been positioning as the “rising tide” in favour of euthanasia.

Paul Kelly

Kelly’s article, “Legalise euthanasia and compassionate society dies too”, which appeared in The Weekend Australian of October 1–2, 2016, is a serious and thorough look at euthanasia in practice in the places where it has been made legal. Kelly’s conclusion, as his title suggests, is that society is irrevocably damaged when the practice of doctors killing people is introduced.

He opens with an emotive plea: “If you love your parents, respect your children, care for your society and think compassionately about your world, then it is time to open your hearts when a jurisdiction legalises killing or, as it is called, euthanasia.”

That there is something of a renewed public interest in euthanasia in Australia at the moment cannot be denied. Partly because this month marks the 20th anniversary of the first euthanasia death under the short-lived Northern Territory law (the first of its kind anywhere in the world), and partly because some journalists have been beating up on the idea, creating something like a self-sustaining whirlwind in all forms of media.

Over these last 20 years, the arguments against euthanasia have not changed. What has changed is the effectiveness of palliative medicine in eliminating pain and suffering.

Kelly correctly cautions, however, that “this is a critical trend but cannot conceal the fact painful deaths still exist and become the main argument for legal change. But euthanasia should not be seen as a substitute for palliative care – that would be a medical and moral blunder.”

Kelly goes on to cite the developments in who gets euthanasia and the rise in the numbers in Belgium and Holland to conclude: “Where euthanasia is legalised the record is clear – its availability generates rapid and ever-expanding use and wider legal boundaries. Its rate and practice quickly exceeds the small number of cases based on the original criteria of unacceptable pain.”

A chronicle of “progress”

He makes his point by posing a series of questions that actually chronicle the progress of euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands: “If you sanction killing for end-of-life pain relief, how can you deny this right to people in pain who aren’t dying? If you give this right to adults, how can you deny this right to children? If you give this right to people in physical pain, how can you deny this right to people with mental illness? If you give this right to people with mental illness, how can you deny this right to people who are exhausted with life?”

“Culture and values will change to justify the death process,” says Kelly as he introduces to readers of The Australian the story of Tom Mortier and the death of his mother (see News Weekly issues December 21, 2013, and November 21, 2015, for Tom Mortier’s story). Kelly uses quotes from Belgian euthanasia supremo, Wim Distelmans, to note some of his more outrageous comments that, frankly, raise no notable objection in his homeland.

Kelly quotes Mortier when responding to Distelmans’ claim that giving a lethal injection is an act of “unconditional love”: “I loved my Mother for more than 30 years and I wanted her to live; Dr Distelmans loved her so much – ‘unconditionally’ – that after a few brief consultations over six months he gave her a lethal injection.”

Andrew Denton once commented to me about Tom Mortier’s situation, saying that, sad as it was, it was after all his mother’s decision – it was her choice. No person who has read Tom’s story could dismiss what happened so easily – unless they had an agenda.

Kelly writes: “The trend and logic is unassailable; once legislated, the principle of euthanasia is settled and the practice of euthanasia is widened, if not by law then by administrative laxity and de facto regulatory sanction. Of course, many euthanasia cases are never declared.

“A 2012 report by the European Institute of Bioethics said: ‘Initially legalised under very strict conditions, euthanasia has gradually become a very normal and even ordinary act to which patients are deemed to have a right [emphasis added].

“Many advocates in Australia use the rights language. Once this takes hold, then holding back the tide is nearly impossible.”

The “rights” argument is also a denial of human nature. Kelly writes: “Experience in other jurisdictions leads to the unambiguous conclusion: the threshold event is the original legalising of euthanasia. After this there is only one debate – It is over when and how to expand the sanctioned killings.”

Victorian inquiry defective

Kelly is highly critical of the report by the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into End-of-life Choices and cites the dissenting report by Daniel Mulino MLC (Victoria), which, contrary to the style of the main report, is written in a scholarly manner and is exceptionally well referenced.

Kelly characterises as “heroic optimism” the main report’s assertions that a law could be written with “robust eligibility criteria”: “It is echoed in nation after nation, year after year. It testifies to the deepest humanist conviction that mankind and wise governments can introduce euthanasia regimes with the necessary legal safeguards and the necessary regulatory protections to manage the promotion of death to ensure only net gains for the social order.

“It is surely extraordinary that people skeptical of the ability of governments to get trains running on time fool themselves into thinking they can confidently manage a regime that sanctions the termination of human life.”

Kelly goes on to quote the new head of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Michael Gannon, and Liz Callaghan from Palliative Care Australia, both of whom are of the opinion that euthanasia does not have a legitimate place in medicine and palliative medicine.

Kelly also notes the push from within the AMA for that body to adopt what is known as a “neutral” position on euthanasia, a tactic that has been tried in several jurisdictions and is likely to fail once more in Australia.

The pro-euthanasia movement knows that once the peak medical body “goes neutral” it can no longer express an opinion either way. Would we want the AMA to adopt a neutral position on medicare or on government health policy? Not likely. They are the peak body whose members, charged with our care, know the reality far better than anyone else. We need them to express an opinion on all sorts of health-related matters, euthanasia being one.

Kelly closes by returning to a personal appeal to his reader: “If we proceed, then life will change, there will be a ‘slippery slope’, your relationship with your doctor will be different, the vulnerable will have a reason to feel uneasy, the push to make euthanasia a right will be inevitable, the frail will feel obliged to volunteer, and our values as a community will shift more quickly than you appreciate.”

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