Image: Nationals MLC Trevor Khan presents his Assisted Dying Bill to the Legislative Council in September this year.
The defeat in the NSW Legislative Council last night of a voluntary assisted dying bill again demonstrates the extraordinary and undemocratic gulf between much of the political class and the electorate on an issue of huge importance to many in the community who have watched loved ones suffer, and those who fear they may be forced to do the same.
Support for euthanasia in Australia has for a long time been consistently between 70% and 80%, according to polling. Some polls put support above 80% in Victoria, where the Voluntary Assisting Dying bill remains in the balance in the upper house there, and above 70% in NSW. Unusually for social issues, support among older voters is significantly higher than the rest of the community. Yet much of the political class remains resolutely against reflecting the will of the electorate in enabling those in the grip of terminal illness to make their own choice about ending their lives.
Having successfully demonstrated, via the postal plebiscite model, a mechanism that will give voters a say on issues where politicians refuse to lead, or are prevented from leading by their own internal weakness, conservative politicians have given us a means to resolve this tension between undemocratically minded politicians and the electorate. And one can confidently look forward to advocates for a marriage equality plebiscite such as the Australian Christian Lobby supporting a euthanasia plebiscite, given there is no possible distinction to be made between the issues — if we’re not supposed to trust politicians to determine who can marry whom, then they certainly can’t be trusted with basic rights such as electing to end one’s life on one’s own terms.
That VAD is primarily a matter for state and territory governments can easily be dealt with by making funding available via the Medicare Benefits Schedule to those who would provide the service, and removing current laws that purport to ban online discussion of euthanasia, imposed by the Howard government in one of its periodic holy wars against the internet.
That such lobby groups belong to “let dying people suffer” camp is irrelevant — the issue is democratic consistency. As Eric Abetz put it so well, “democracy is an infinite good and political elites should never seek to stand in the way of the people having their say.” He, like Lyle Shelton, and Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull, and Kevin Andrews, will presumably be only to happy to apply that to the right to end one’s life. Let’s make it happen in 2018.