PRO-life advocates are preparing to challenge a “cheap” and “dirty-joke” campaign to legalise euthanasia in Queensland and Western Australia, similar to the campaign in Victoria which last year led to the passing of an assisted-dying law.
“What we witnessed in Victoria, and no doubt we will witness in the other jurisdictions too, is a cheapened form of ethical discussion in the public square,” ethicist Dr Dan Fleming said.
Dr Fleming works for St Vincent’s Health Care Services – with hospitals and aged-care facilities across the country – and is conducting a detailed study into what Victoria’s hospital services will look like once the operation of the assisted-dying law in Victoria starts in 2019.
“The reason we say ‘no’ (to euthanasia and assisted dying) is because we have a beautiful vision of health care, what we can do for someone to ensure they have an excellent end-of-life experience,” he said.
“And because of that vision we don’t see this (Victorian legislation) as viable.”
Brisbane-based voluntary euthanasia advocates who helped fund Victoria’s assisted-dying legislation have already launched a campaign to drive similar law change in Queensland.
The Clem Jones Group is spearheading the campaign, using $5 million from the estate of the late Brisbane Lord Mayor Clem Jones, who wrote in his will about his devastation at watching his wife Sylvia suffer.
The group has labelled voluntary euthanasia as one of the most important social issues of our time, it claims 80 per cent of Australians want law reform, and it has urged all Queensland MPs to back a parliamentary inquiry by the end of the year.
However pro-life groups including Cherish Life Queensland want politicians to look at ways to care for its aging population rather than considering euthanasia.
“This is why the AMA (Australian Medical Association) is opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia and instead supports palliative care, which is the true form of assisted dying,” Cherish Life’s vice-president Alan Baker told The Catholic Leader recently.
“This focuses on relieving pain and keeping patients comfortable in order to allow a natural and dignified death at their appointed time.”
Improving access to palliative care is vital, but in 2018 it remains out of reach to many Queenslanders, especially those living in the bush.
It’s a similar case in rural Victoria.
Palliative Care Victoria estimates about 10,000 Victorian deaths – one in four – occur every year without access to palliative care.
Only one in six public hospitals have a hospice care unit, which can sometimes mean signing on to long waiting lists for patients who don’t have time to wait.
Palliative Care Victoria chief executive officer Odette Waanders, said nine recommendations for improving palliative care – at a cost of $65 million a year – were rejected by the Victorian Government which was determined to push through assisted-dying legislation instead.
“To some extent I think it is about a government (in Victoria) that wants to be a socially progressive reforming government and wants to make its mark,” she said.
“The problem is some of that is based on a very, very superficial understanding of the complexity of the issues involved.
“And it was driven by a lobby group and a very biased media not keen on engaging and fostering deep public debate on this issue.”
Dr Fleming said given the high stakes involved in the debate – care for people who were suffering at the end of their lives and the possibilities of legalising suicide and euthanasia – it was reasonable to expect a “better” ethical public debate.
“Unfortunately in our current context people win debates in the public square with the ethical equivalent of a dirty joke – it’s quick, its easy and it gets laughs – but it doesn’t have the substance of something we have to work harder at,” he said. “I think the way to enter into the debate is to avoid those cheap tricks.
“We have to debate respectfully and with good solid arguments.
“We are all scared of death, and we’re especially scared we will suffer in pain as we die.
“It’s how we respond to it that is the issue.”