voluntary euthanasia party launches election campaign
This Federal election there is a new political party on the stage, the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, contesting seats in four States with the single purpose to put legalising voluntary euthanasia on the national agenda.
In existence for just three months, the Party already has more than 2000 members, and will run senate candidates in NSW, ACT and South Australia, as well as in the Northern Territory Lower House seat of Solomon. The seven candidates include Dr Philip Nitschke, long standing voluntary euthanasia campaigner, and family members who have watched loved ones pass away from length terminal illness.
Three of the seven Voluntary Euthanasia Party candidates are terminally ill. Multiple sclerosis sufferer, Loredana Mulhall, standing in for the party for a NSW Senate seat, could not hold a microphone as she sat in front of cameras at the launch of the Party in Sydney this week. In her candidate bio, Ms Mulhall said,
‘I am a 64 year old, medically retired English teacher and have lived with multiple sclerosis for 35 years. I am now confined to a wheelchair and am unable to move any part of my body but I am able to blow and sip through straws to move my wheelchair and I am currently relearning to use my computer using my mouth.
I want people to know that I am not giving up and I don’t want to die now, but I’d like the choice when I’m ready and I know other people in my situation want that choice too. While I can still speak, I want to use my voice to help others find peace and dignity.’
In a similar way to the abortion debate in Australia, the campaign to legislate for dying with dignity laws is about choice.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Party states that:
‘we support the provision of medical procedures for the painless, assisted death of patients of a terminal or incurable illness, who are enduring unbearable suffering and who have expressed a desire for the procedures within appropriate legal safeguards. We believe that these patients deserve the right to make informed choices about the time and manner of their death through appropriate and humane medical assistance.’
For those in favour of voluntary euthanasia it is about retaining control or even taking back control of one’s life at the end of it.
Dying with Dignity advocate, and urologist Dr Rodney Syme, has publicly admitted to assisting terminally ill patients to end their lives over a 30 -40 year period. In his book A Good Death, Dr Syme makes the case that assisted dying already occurs, and is frequently dismissed by the courts in the form of suspended sentences. He argues that our legal system is flawed in that it does not recognise this, and that this also means there are no safeguards in place.
An alternative view on euthanasia comes from Dr Sidney Callahan in an article entitled, ‘A Feminist Case Against Self-Determined Dying in Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.’ Dr Callahan argues that women will be more affected and most adversely affected by legalising euthanasia because they live longer than men, hold fewer resources than men, are socialised to be less assertive, and will face the worst of any inadequacies that appear in potential end of life laws.
It is fair to say that while the entire purpose of the Voluntary Euthanasia Party is to put this issue back on the agenda, this has been a lengthy and ongoing debate.
Most recently the Tasmanian Parliament is set to debate ‘dying with dignity’ legislation, jointly sponsored by Premier Lara Giddings and Tasmanian Greens Leader and Cabinet Minister Nick McKim before the end of the year. A similar bill was brought on and rejected in NSW by Greens Member Cate Faehrmann in May 2013.
At the Federal level the Australian Greens have announced that they will introduce legislation in the next parliament designed to give terminally ill Australians the right to end their life through euthanasia.
As this debate unfolds in the context of an election campaign, and after it, is critical that consideration of these laws involves a high level of public engagement, based on evidence, and a conducted with rational, honest dialogue.