If there’s one thing that the Hon Bob Such is known for its persistence. Once again he’s introducing a euthanasia bill into the SA lower house.
Last year – when his last euthanasia bill was defeated (22 to 20), the Independent Member for Fisher said that he would ‘re-jig’ his last effort. Like the character from The Terminator: ‘I’ll be back!’
That bill was also a ‘re-jig’ of an earlier bill in a “slightly modified form”.
In his closing speech in June last year, Mr Such suggested that those opposed to his bill should let him know if they had any additional safeguards to make his bill ‘tighter’. No surprise to learn that we did not respond.
On the 24th of January, in a radio interview he claimed that this new and latest bill was similar to his last effort, but was “further improved” adding, interestingly, that he “couldn’t improve (it) much more.”
As we have observed before, once we move to allow some change to the law – even if only a small change – we begin to accept a level of risk. Yes, we can make things ‘tighter’ by imposing more and more safeguards which, as has been seen before, has the effect of making the legislation less-and-less accessible. So yes, in one sense, bills can be improved – but they can never be made safe.
This latest effort, the “Ending Life with Dignity Bill 2013” provides for ‘the administration of medical procedures to “assist death” of a limited number of persons who are terminally ill… subject to appropriate safeguards…” Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But, as we’ve seen many times before in many places, Such employs linguistic gymnastics and twists concepts (such as dignity) to an illegitimate end.
Again in his closing speech last year he said that he’d been criticised that his bill was so “restrictive and tight”. This is in one sense a reflection on the reality that the pro-euthanasia lobby is divided – that they don’t all agree on the same objective; but it is also a statement about the reality, that Such will understand, about incrementalism.
Such knows that reaching for too much will spook some MPs who might otherwise have been convinced to support a more limited model. We’re seeing this played out more and more these days with MPs – and even some pro-euthanasia groups moving to a smaller target – a narrower first objective.
They understand, as the British House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics in 1994 observed:
to create an exception to the general prohibition of intentional killing would inevitably open the way to its further erosion whether by design, by inadvertence, or by the human tendency to test the limits of any regulation.
Such has continues, as do many, to focus on pain: those few, as it is claimed, that cannot be adequately helped by palliative medicine and who die in ‘tremendous pain’, ‘screaming in agony’ as Such has said.
Contrast this with statements from a number of palliative care experts I have spoken with to the effect that no-one need die in pain. Certainly, there are some conditions for which symptom management may require sedation – but pain is not the issue. The cases trotted out routinely by the pro-euthanasia brigade and the likes of Bob Such are either from some time ago – when pain management was not as sophisticated- or evidence of poor medical practice, the lack of availability of palliative care services – or both. There may well be legitimate cases – but they point in the first instance to problems within our medical system in matters like medical training and palliative care funding – not to euthanasia as some final solution.
As with most bills we have seen, Such relies on the subjective judgement of the patient as to whether or not their suffering qualifies them for euthanasia. This invites the possibility of ‘doctor shopping’. This is a significant problem in every jurisdiction where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal. We saw this most recently with the twins in Belgium who were refused euthanasia by their local doctor because their developing eye sight problems were not terminal, but found solace from a doctor in a training hospital in a nearby town. We have also heard from doctors in Oregon who have refused to provide an assisted suicide prescription to a patient they had deemed to be depressed only to find them dead sometime later after a visit or two to a colleague who either did not pick up the depression or who decided to give the big tick on other grounds.
If this bill passes, will we find that certain doctors become part of a ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ network of medicos who are known to be, let’s say, less observant? In Washington State, the local ‘compassion and choices’ network (just in case you wondered – they’re the people supporting the legislation) can provide you with a list of doctors you can approach – satisfaction guaranteed or your life back (sorry, bad joke!). A few years ago their Oregon compatriots reported that their doctors wrote all but one of the death prescriptions that year.
And what of the ubiquitous figure of Philip Nitschke? Will he set up a death clinic as he’s threatened more than a few times before? Why not? It’s no great hoop to jump through to change your ‘treating physician’. Would he then recruit a similarly disposed colleague for that necessary second opinion? You bet – and why wouldn’t he?
You can help stop this and other bills - join the HOPE network at www.noeuthanasia.org.au and sign the Declaration of HOPE at www.declare.noeuthanasia.org.au