“No one wants to see them suffering – least of all me.”
“I support voluntary euthanasia – but not this bill.”
“I revere the sanctity of life – but not at any cost.”
As one of the proponents of the voluntary euthanasia (VE) legislation being currently debated by the South Australian Parliament, I have heard all the excuses and all the furphies, as well as some outright lies.
Polls consistently show that around 75% of people support voluntary euthanasia. Yet this overwhelming support does not translate into legislation by those who are meant to represent the people. No wonder voters are turning off politics.
So let’s take a logical look at the reality of why MPs should support the current voluntary euthanasia proposal, the Death with Dignity Bill 2016, which I introduced into the House of Assembly on October 20.
Government whip Tom Kenyon opposes voluntary euthanasia on the grounds that it amounts to “state-sanctioned killing”: nothing could be further from the truth. This voluntary euthanasia bill is about shortening an inevitable and painful death, not life.
Using Mr Kenyon’s own logic, if we do not provide a law enabling a gentle exit for those who have a terminal illness and are suffering at the end of life, it must surely amount to state-sanctioned torture.
The Death with Dignity Bill is the product of intensive consultation within the parliament. It has a range of strong safeguards to protect the vulnerable.
These safeguards include:
- You have to be a mentally competent adult, so it is not possible for a child or someone with mental health issues to make a request for voluntary euthanasia (VE).
- Having a disability cannot be a sole criterion for requesting VE: you must also have a terminal condition.
- Ditto, simply being old does not qualify you to make a request voluntary euthanasia.
Again, the ultimate safeguard is that you must have a terminal condition. And VE is 100% voluntary. Even if you are granted permission to access life-ending medications, there is no compulsion for you to take it. Indeed experience in the United States shows us that one third of those who are given a prescription do not then take the medication. Simply knowing that you can take it provides great peace of mind and a sense of control to people in their dying days.
Other safeguards include that a terminal prognosis must be confirmed by two doctors, one independent of the first. There must also be two independent witnesses to a request for VE. If there is any doubt then the case must be referred to a psychiatrist.
I am determined not to let the current debate on voluntary euthanasia be hijacked by a small group of MPs and/or a very vocal and sometimes vicious minority.
In terms of penalties and oversight:
- There are provisions for very heavy jail terms for coercion or duress.
- Annual reports are to made to Parliament.
- There are reports to the Coroner and a review within five years.
These provisions are all clear, all in plain sight and there’s no need to refer to the Acts Interpretation Act to make sense of them. It is hard to think of any legislation that has greater accountability or scrutiny built in to it – as it should be. This is a very, very good Bill.
Let’s remember: South Australia has a very long and proud history of progressive social reform from a succession of Premiers – Liberal David Tonkin, with Aboriginal land rights; and Labor’s Don Dunstan on gay rights, through to current adoption and gender equity reform. Today we can still be assured we truly live in a state where every individual matters.
Our research tells us the vast majority of our fellow South Australians want a law that can help people in the final stages of terminal illness, who are in terrible pain and for whom there is no more that can be done. Our fellow citizens want a law that permits people a peaceful passage at the end of their lives, under the supervision of our medical professionals, and with appropriate checks and balances.
As an MP elected into the multicultural, multi-faith, secular society that is South Australia in 2016, where the separation of church and state is a foundation of our democracy, I am very proud to say I have always put the interests of my constituents and all South Australians ahead of my personal beliefs. I was elected to take the collective conscience of my constituents as my moral compass – the duty, I believe, of all who serve in our Parliament.
That is why I am determined not to let the current debate on voluntary euthanasia be hijacked by a small group of MPs and/or a very vocal and sometimes vicious minority. These are people who are either by ignorance or arrogance willing to let people die in the most horrific of circumstances. They would, I am afraid to say, prefer that someone drown in their own fluids as a result of pulmonary oedema or die from starvation and dehydration after being terminally sedated. How callous. How cowardly. And how often it is that this comes from those who preach compassion.
By all means, let’s discuss the details of the legislation and let’s do so in a spirit of making this work for those who are suffering.
But to those MPs who reflexively oppose the idea of VE or who simply seek to destroy my bill, I ask them to have the courage to ask themselves this: who are you really representing? Who are you supporting? Your church? Or those who elected you to serve them? Are you following faith or the facts? Are you concerned about your heaven above? Or others experiencing real hell on earth?
Who, really, is your constituency?
Let this VE Bill be the Bill.
Dr Duncan McFetridge is the Liberal MP for Morphett.
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