By producing a major series of podcasts on the issue of assisted dying, Andrew Denton has challenged politicians to end the conspiracy of silence around euthanasia in Australia.
There is very strong community support for laws allowing euthanasia. In May last year, Essential Research found that 72% of voters supported voluntary assisted dying. Support is even stronger among older Australians.
Federal politicians are out of step with this sentiment, with strong opposition, particularly from hard-right Christian MPs. Notoriously, the decision of the Northern Territory parliament to allow euthanasia was overturned nearly 20 years ago. The Howard government later banned discussing euthanasia or suicide online, and under the Rudd government we learnt euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke’s Peaceful Pill Handbook was the subject of internet censorship by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Nitschke has been a target of serial harassment, and was even detained by Customs in 2014 as he sought to leave Australia.
Many politicians believe that euthanasia should not only be illegal, but any debate about it should be shut down, and its advocates silenced and harassed. Whether you support euthanasia or not, this is not the way a healthy democracy should function.
Euthanasia, beyond most public policy issues, goes to the very core of who we are. It is a question we face as individuals, as family and friends who cherish their loved ones, and as citizens in a society that, despite ever longer lifespans, gives us little control over how we die. There are good arguments on both sides of the question. And it deserves real debate, not silence and intimidation.
Disclosure: the Denton podcasts have been produced in association with the Wheeler Centre. Eric Beecher, chairman of Private Media, which owns Crikey, is also chairman of the Wheeler Centre.