Oct 20, 2017

Why has the euthanasia debate been less feral than that of marriage equality?

The battle surrounding assisted-dying legislation has been muted compared to the fist-fight that has been the push for marriage equality.

Max Chalmers

Freelance journalist

Back in September, Quadrant writer Geoffrey Luck decided somebody had to say it. “LGBTQIA people are not only not normal, they are not natural,” Luck wrote, repeating something that many people have said, thought, and written, over hundreds of years. Those supporting a Yes vote in the marriage survey, he added, were part of a “totalitarian movement”.

Even at the point of greatest tension and conflict, as former prime ministers make their last ditch interventions and MPs filibuster through the night, advocates on both sides of Victoria’s assisted dying debate say the hugely consequential proposal has been largely absent of this sort of vitriol demonstrated during national marriage equality debate. It passed the lower house this morning 47-37 after a marathon overnight sitting, and will now be debated in the upper house.

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32 thoughts on “Why has the euthanasia debate been less feral than that of marriage equality?

  1. Whodathunkit

    “The Church sent a pastoral letter to at least a quarter of a million parishioners last week, asking them to “pray” that the bill is defeated.” That worked well!!!!!!!
    That people who believe in this stupidity are trying to impose it on the rest of us is a real worry and should be called out at every opportunity.
    Re “…former Prime Ministers…”, the Archbishops have obviously been hitting the phones.

  2. Venise Alstergren

    1) I wish I could read the article but Crikey’s latest ad. prevents me fom reading it.
    2) I never thought I’d criticise Paul Keating but the last minute article he wrote against the Assisted Dying Bill in Victoria revealed a man unable to rise above his religious beliefs. 0 out of 10 Paul Keating.

    1. Xoanon

      Yeah I’ve been disappointed with the MPs and other public figures opposing it purely (it seems) on the basis of being Catholic. As people generally don’t choose their religion but inherit it, they should be able to rise above its diktats and think for themselves. Not necessarily saying these individuals haven’t come to an anti-VAD position by themselves, but I have my doubts.

  3. Desmond Graham

    Actually good economical result for the State of Victoria- those with less than 1 year to live will not require expert treatment facilities no hospital bed stay, can be moved to lower cost bed . The high cost of chemotherapy will be saved and therefore lower skilled work force will save on wages. So costs can substantially be reduced . Now doctors will be able to issue certificates of life expectancy and the state can then cease funding chemotherapy in the deemed final year.

    1. Graeski

      @Desmond Graham: I think yours is probably the most disgusting, moronic, immoral, post I’ve ever seen on Crikey. To imply that the only motivation of those seeking passage of assisted dying laws is financial is deeply offensive to any of us who’ve lost in agony someone we love.

      1. Will

        Desmond’s just making one of the same points Rundle argued yesterday. The state’s motives are different in kind to those of individuals, and demand always the very deepest of suspicion. It says nothing about the motivation of supporters of VAD to observe that the neoliberal state certainly won’t say no to fewer public palliative care patients (particularly as the Boomers demographic wave begins to break over the public health system). Nothing immoral or moronic about it. It’s just a fact, and the very pressure that a VAD system will have to be micro-policed into perpetuity to resist.

      2. Desmond Graham

        From reading professional opinions – proper first class palliative care does not require a euthanasia law – but first class palliative services ARE very expensive, so euthanasia IS a more economical method. That also begs the question if euthanasia is to be the outcome when does one cease chemotherapy as chemotherapy is very expensive , one dose costing $100,000 insome cases I have read . Laws enacted by pollies because they have experienced an emotional event is bad for the general governance. It is self interest- if applied in less emotive context would create a public backlash – look at NSW ministers and coal mining leases they have interest in, pollies who have an an interest with land developers. So when you strip the emotion out of it -objectively it is bad legislative process.

        1. drsmithy

          That also begs the question if euthanasia is to be the outcome when does one cease chemotherapy as chemotherapy is very expensive , one dose costing $100,000 insome cases I have read .

          When the patient decides.

          As someone else said. Which part of “voluntary” do you struggle with ?

          Society has even less right to demand I stay alive to sooth its collective conscience, than it does to demand I die.

          1. Desmond Graham

            voluntary means suicide – not to impose a duty on some else to kill you.

          2. drsmithy

            A predictably dishonest twist. Who is being compelled to kill ?

    2. Woopwoop

      What part of the word “voluntary” don’t you understand?

  4. Shakira Hussein

    I dunno. Andrew Denton wasn’t thrilled when I noted in this article that I wished the late Stella Young was still with us to kick his arse. https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/05/17/why-i-dont-support-euthanasia/
    His email to me about it was titled “A good kick in the Netherlands”.
    I think that the debate would have been very different if Stella was still here to participate in it, by the way. From my conversations on the topic, she led quite a few left-wing people (who support the Greens on other social justice issues) to shift their ground regarding euthanasia. I’ve been missing her very much this week.

  5. Lance Boyle

    The intervention of AMA President Gannon and the comeback from Vic AMA has been a fascinating sideline brawl to watch. Bet many members wish they had Brian Owler, back in the seat, who has just come out in support of the Vic Govt Bill. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-18/ama-apologises-to-mps-for-euthanasia-comments/9061736

  6. kyle Hargraves

    I’m distressed to observe, and by no means for the first time, that an important topic has been treated ineptly. The article contains any number of statements but not one statement has been selected for analysis. Such quotations as “I’m not seeing men in long black dresses cavorting down the corridors of parliament, this is being done behind the scenes” may be entertaining for some but adds nothing to the matter at hand. Besides a semicolon is required after the world parliament and not a comma (as is the case in the text).

    It wasn’t that long ago, comparatively, that suicide and hence an attempted suicide was a criminal offense. However, it has been quite some time since anyone was imprisoned over a botched suicide. The matter possesses analogies with a right to an abortion; one either has sovereignty of one’s body or one doesn’t have sovereignty over one’s body.

    Euthanasia was permitted by a government in the NT, a few years ago, and then “overridden” by Federal Parliament on entirely ideological principals (by a relative minority of civic fathers who knew what was best for us) .

    The article also compromises itself by the inclusion of such throw-away lines as “Yet the major roadblock to assisted dying laws in Australia — like same-sex marriage — is the opposition of religious and conservative group. While it is the case that religious groups, in general, are opposed to euthanasia being part of Australia life it is rather irresponsible to consider the opposing “NO” groups as synonymous to those of same-sex marriage or indeed to consider the two topics as having any direct correspondence. In fact the distinction between the (NO) groups and the topics ought to have been made (assuming a level of competence of the writer).

    Lastly, in regard to this snippet [Bioethics Professor Margaret Somerville told Crikey. “Especially as those on the yes side of the [euthanasia] debate base their view on terrible personal experiences, and we all have a common goal of the relief of suffering. We just disagree what are and are not ethical ways to do that.] also deserves inspection sentence-by-sentence.

    Indeed is it unfortunate that a component of the “Yes” side does bang on about grandma languishing with no expectation of recovery (Kerouac referred to his own father dying of stomach cancer in an apartment in New York without recourse to (expensive) medical attention or pain relief with rather more objectivity – or less sentimentality) but a moments reflection ought to be sufficient to recognise that such “arguments” are beside the point. If there is an argument for suicide or assisted suicide ceasing to be a criminal offense then, like smoking dope in one’s back yard, (or possession of less than 2oz) euthanasia ought to be permissible.

    By way of a post script, as to Graeski’s remark to Graham it seems to me that Graham was inferring that in the case of someone with an arbitrary length of time to live the government or delegated body could implement cost-saving policies that would compromise the comfort, if not the standard of health care, to the designated patient. While conceding (for myself) that such a scenario is possible I also deem such a policy to be unlikely (for a number of reasons; Australia is a signatory to any number of statements concerning human rights).

    1. Robert Garnett

      Human rights in the international and political sense are far more honored in the breach than the observance. In fact for most people human rights are something to be enjoyed and defended for themselves, but somewhat optional for other people.

      Everybody signs on to human rights, it’s a bit like the confession. The most powerful and influential countries in the world have signed on, but they violate them everyday as a routine matter.

      It’s best we forget about human rights and concentrate on practical morality, which is seldom absolute, but which has the best chance mitigating the worst of life’s trials and tribulations for most of us.

  7. zut alors

    Apart from one matter being handled by a public survey & the other by Parliament there is another factor at play here. One issue affects only a fraction of the population, the other affects us all.

    Not everyone in Oz is LGBTQ therefore most of us will never wish to marry another person of the same sex – this makes the prospect easier to dismiss without deep thought or empathy. However, we are all in the same boat in regard to death: nobody escapes it nor can we predict the circumstances of our last years, months, hours. It’s possible to imagine oneself enfeebled & failing, battling for merciful relief. We are placed on an even playing field with this issue.

    1. Will

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I suspect, in their heart of hearts, opponents of VAD secretly hope that I kindly physician will end their suffering if it comes to it, and so they’re instinctively holding their punches a little, so to speak.

      1. Desmond Graham

        I suspect that physicians have been assisting people for thousands of years humanely without legislation – it is only the modern trend that every aspect of human life & behaviour must have some regulation attached to it. That is because have the population is employed by some sort of regulatory body. Charity used to be a voluntary – now we have a charities commission. Looking after the disabled used to be a form of commitment for doing good -now we have the NDIS – One has to be stupid to donate to to any helping organisation – the government grant covers that activity .

        1. Woopwoop

          Charity used to be very hit-or miss. Now social security is a right.
          Assisted dying is the same: once at the whim of some doctor, now the same rules for all.

          1. Desmond Graham

            That is interesting – social security a new right – nothing of the sort. It is taking care of the not so fortunate – each country sets its own rules . Dying is not a right – it happens to all of us. Over thousands of years are you saying the profession of medicine has been whimsical? What a novel concept. Also laws do not make the same rules for all of us if it did there would be no need for lawyers.

  8. drsmithy

    It’s because euthanasia is not perceived as a so-called “identity politics” issue.

  9. Heresathought

    Where’s the mystery? Same-sex marriage is about discrimination against a historically-loathed minority, so it activates bigotry. Assisted dying is not, so it doesn’t.

    There’s also a reasonable case to be made for either side of assisted dying, unlike same-sex marriage.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      Referring to the post at 4:43 pm:
      “Same-sex marriage is about discrimination against a historically-loathed minority, so it activates bigotry.”

      As has been pointed out countless times in these pages discrimination can be removed (alleviated or whatever) without formal approval of same-sex marriage. Changes to laws pertaining to inheritance or superannuation or Wills or Succession or whatever are mere administrative details.

      “There’s also a reasonable case to be made for either side of assisted dying, unlike same-sex marriage”

      A strictly Jewish or Christian or Islamic community cannot continence gay marriage given the authority of the Torah or the Bible or the Quran. With the secularisation of the community tolerance has improved considerably over the last forty years. Euthanasia, as a right, has made almost no progress to date although sentiments to (e.g. suicide) have changed. Forty years ago an individual might admit to a (historical) family suicide only to the closest of friends – in indeed then. Given the experience of the NT similar phobias are currently attached to euthanasia.

  10. sparky

    The reason is 100% of people die. 100% of people aren’t gay. Pure Math.

    1. Woopwoop

      100% Australian website. How about Australian English ?

      1. Robert Garnett

        Sparky did put a full stop after Math so he may have been shortening mathematics or Maths. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. I certainly hope that this the case otherwise the moderator needs to intervene in no uncertain terms.

        I have never been able to understand how the Americans shorten Mathematics to Math. If its Mathematics it must be Maths..

        It is appalling use of the Queens English

        Perhaps Sparky IS American. God they are everywhere!!

    2. Robert Garnett

      Sparky, I think you’ve nailed it!

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