The real Turnbull

Ben Marshall writes: Re. “Will the real Malcolm Turnbull please stand up?” (yesterday). With respect to Maxine McKew, her question was potentially relevant ten months ago.  Judging by Turnbull’s actions in the intervening period however, her question has now been fully and comprehensively answered – he has stood up for bigotry, homophobes, racists, coal miners, the rabid Right anti-science / anti-arts brigade, and the tax-dodging corporate sector.  You’re welcome.

On euthanasia

Lawrie Daniel writes: Re. “Why I don’t support euthanasia (and you shouldn’t either)” (May 17). Where do I start? Skipping over the attempt to make this simply an ideological skirmish between left and right instead of the universal human rights issue that it really is, I’m sorry that the author felt it necessary to wish for the return of a deceased disability activist, purely to visit physical violence on Andrew Denton’s Netherlands. Andrew Denton hasn’t excluded disabled voices. On the contrary, he has taken great pains to canvass the opinions of the disabled from both sides of the argument, and I couldn’t imagine a more respectful approach than the one he has brought to the campaign.

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The bottom line is that if Ms Hussein’s view prevails, no one will have the choice to end their suffering at a time of their own choosing. Everyone experiencing unbearable suffering due to chronic or terminal illness will be forced to endure the most horrendous lives and deaths (or to commit suicide in lonely and violent ways), in order to satisfy either the author’s need to have her views prevail, or to allay her unjustified fears that she will be devalued or marginalised if assisted dying was available voluntarily to all who needed it.

I think a few lines in her article are revealing. She didn’t consider VE until she got MS, and she acknowledges that her MS has taken a relatively minor toll on her. She has not reached the ‘dying in slow motion phase’ of the illness, and cannot empathise fully with others in that position. I hope she never does reach that phase, but I hope she can develop more empathy for others nevertheless.

End of life pain relief/terminal sedation/palliative care is not available to people with late stage MS until they are at death’s door. They may have to live for decades in unbearable suffering before they reach that point. It doesn’t palliate existential or neuropathic pain. Denial of treatment is not an option, since with late stage MS there are no treatments, and symptomatic treatments will not speed death. Denial of food and drink is a painfully slow and horrific death, and is only an option for the most desperate. If we truly valued life, we would allow people in these desperate circumstances a humane choice.

I think Gillian Mears’ story is instructive. I saw a One Plus One interview with her and Jane Hutcheon. In that interview she notes sheepishly that she was violently opposed to VE in the early stages of her MS, and for similar reasons to Ms Hussein. However, as the disease took hold, she became a passionate supporter. Gillian recently passed away. I hope she died on her own terms.

People’s opinions do change, but perhaps too late to save themselves or others from terrible suffering. I think Ms Hussein’s views may change too, but in the meantime, all that can be done is to take her worries (and those of others like her) seriously, and address them compassionately and factually. In the end, opponents are always talking about compulsory or coerced euthanasia, not voluntary assisted dying, and that is just a different discussion altogether.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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