February 10th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Blackouts due to closure of coal-fired power stations

EDITORIAL Behind China's push for global power

CANBERRA OBSERVED The left's appetite for change can't be satisfied

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The Four Ideologies of the 21st century: Transgenderism, Libertarianism, cultural and Economic, and Radical Environmentalism

SEX-TRAFFICKING Meet modern slavery - in your very suburb

EUTHANASIA Delivering Victoria's death law: an unedifying spectacle

ENVIRONMENT Too hot? Too cold? Blame global warming

OPINION Report on child sexual abuse aimed at Church

FREEDOM OF RELIGION 'Equality' and equally disingenuous terms

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudis, Israel confirm Middle East alliance

OBITUARY To the memory of a multimedia Chestertonian: Tony Evans

MUSIC Straight to the heart: for the listener, at least

CINEMA The Commuter: And my criteria for reviewing films

BOOK REVIEW Essays take 'settled science' to task

BOOK REVIEW A pathway through a tangle of nonsense

BOOK REVIEW Quarterly Essay


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Delivering Victoria's death law: an unedifying spectacle

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, February 10, 2018

Victorian Liberal MP and former Attorney-General Robert Clark has written a damning indictment of the conduct of the debate on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill in October and November last year. Mr Clark’s piece was published in The Spectator Australia on December 7, 2017.[1]

Calling it a “process to be shunned” Mr Clark described the progress of the proposal for an assisted suicide law for Victoria as proceeding from “a biased and superficial inquiry”, to “a partisan ‘expert panel’”, to “the browbeating of government MPs” and ending with a debate during which “each House of Parliament [was] forced to sit non-stop until it passed the bill.”

In reply, fellow Victorian Upper House MP Edward O’Donohue, also in the pages of The Spectator (December 17, 2017), claims the process was “thorough and extensive.”[2]

Was the inquiry by the Legal and Social Issues Committee biased and superficial? Mr O’Donohue pointed to the number of submissions received and the number of witnesses who appeared before the Committee over 17 days of public hearings. His view is that “every possible view and perspective was considered”.

But out of over 1000 submissions received, only 154 witnesses got the opportunity to give evidence before the committee. The Australian Family Association, for example, was not invited to appear despite making a considered submission.[3]

Was the inquiry biased? Mr O’Donohue, who acted as chairman of the committee, is on the record as one of only four Liberals who voted for the Greens’ Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill in 2008.[4] Two other members of the committee, Nina Springle, a Greens member, and Fiona Patten, the Sex Party member, are from parties with policies in support of voluntary euthanasia.

Two other committee members, Inga Peulich and Daniel Mulino, made minority reports to the inquiry opposing the recommendation for a voluntary assisted suicide law. So, three members for and two against. Of the other three members of the committee in the event, two voted for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.

Was the inquiry superficial? Well, Mr Clark referred to the serious and considered parliamentary reports in Scotland in 2010,[5] New Zealand in August, 2017,[6] and the comprehensive “House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics consideration of assisted suicide” (published in a number of reportsin 2005), which all rejected assisted suicide proposals. Did these reports inform the committee’s final recommendations?

A number of other jurisdictions rejected assisted suicide proposals in 2017, but Mr Donohue says this is immaterial to Victoria. He points to Oregon and the other handful of American states that have adopted similar laws and says that in Oregon the law enjoys widespread support and only accounts for 0.4 per cent of deaths. But was the committee aware of the serious concerns about how Oregon’s assisted suicide law is actually working?

Professor Aaron Kheriaty, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Medical Ethics Program at UC Irvine School of Medicine, says that there are serious problems with the laws in Oregon and many documented cases of abuse.[7] He says that, among terminally ill individuals, a request to die is associated with depression in 59 per cent of cases. Yet in Oregon, less than 5 per cent of those who have died by assisted suicide were ever referred for psychiatric consultation to rule out depression as the cause of suicidal thinking.

Professor Kheriaty also says “doctor shopping” is a concern, where patients refused access to assisted suicide by their doctor are in some cases directed by their managed care insurance company to another doctor who will prescribe the lethal drug. He says: “In Oregon, a small number of physicians write a disproportionately large number of the prescriptions.”

Another concern is that, after suicide rates had declined in the 1990s in Oregon, they rose dramatically between 2000 and 2010, in the years after assisted suicide was made legal in 1997. “In 2010, suicide rates were 35 per cent higher in Oregon than the national average,” Professor Kheriaty says.

The committee’s inquiry was into the whole of “end of life choices” and it was only when the Final Report was released that an assisted suicide/euthanasia law was proposed. So submissions to the inquiry would not have focused on and not been as detailed about all the issues raised by that particular proposal. But instead of an exposure draft of the bill being released for comment and scrutiny, the bill itself was only released about a week before it was introduced into Parliament.

Then the pressure to get the bill through Parliament was extraordinary, with overnight sittings in both houses and one government MP collapsing and being taken to hospital as a result. This was hardly a measured process allowing enough time for MPs to really come to grips with a lengthy bill with huge implications for all Victorians.

Looking at what actually happened I think Mr Clark’s assessment of the process is closer to the mark.

Mr O’Donohue also did not answer any of the few examples Mr Clark gave of flaws and anomalies in the resulting act. So, not only was it a most unsatisfactory, and for an ordinary member of the voting public, a most unedifying process, but it has delivered to Victoria a law that is a shambles and the dubious honour of being the first jurisdiction in Australia to legislate to allow doctors to prescribe a lethal substance to patients to kill themselves.


[1] Robert Clark, “Making Victoria’s euthanasia laws a process to be shunned”, The Spectator Australia, December 7, 2017.

[2] Edward O’Donohue, “Making Victoria’s euthanasia laws consultative and thorough”, The Spectator Australia, December 17, 2017.

[3] The Australian Family Association, “Submission to the Legislative Council Standing Committee on legal and social issues inquiry into end-of-life choices”, July 2015.

[4] Hansard, Extract from “Parliamentary Debates”, September 10, 2008.

[5] End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee Report 2010.

[6] Report of the Health Committee presented to the House of Representatives, August 2017.

[7] Aaron Kheriarty, “Oregon assisted suicide law no model for California”, The Mercury News, September 2, 2015.

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