Today the Tasmanian Premier, Lara Giddings MP and her deputy, Nick McKim MP jointly tabled the euphemistically entitled Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2013. The bill will not begin to be debated until after parliament resumes in October; but given the recent history of parliamentary debates in the Apple Isle and given the sponsorship by the two leaders, we can expect as much time as is deemed necessary to be given over to the debate.
|Paul with Alex Schadenberg |
in Hobart in 2012
News websites have unerringly cited the bill as being about euthanasia, however, the proposed law allows both for euthanasia and assisted suicide. Again, supporters have been quoted as saying that the bill makes provision for those with a terminal illness - but the clauses allow for a broader application.
"Tasmanians are compassionate and caring people, and polls have consistently shown that this reform is supported by the overwhelming majority of the community," Mr McKim said in The Mercury newspaper report. This is gilding the lily. Even if we can accept the problematic polls as a true indication that Tasmanians' support law reform, that does not necessarily translate to support for this particular model. Mr McKim will need to do much better than that to secure the requisite 50 percent plus one vote in each of the state houses of parliament.
This bill has been a longtime coming. Floated originally a few years ago, the proposal for 'Voluntary Assisted Dying' was canvassed some months ago in a discussion paper circulated by the Premier and responded to, so we are told, in hundreds of submissions. To date, the report from that exercise has not been made public.
The bill is essentially an attempt to genetically modify euthanasia & assisted suicide into something that appears palatable and reasonable. But beneath the veneer, the DNA remains the same and the risks to vulnerable people exist in more-or-less the same way as with every other cloned bill.
The bill does not even refer to euthanasia by name and only passingly refers to assisted suicide in a clause that effectively says that this is not assisted suicide.
Tasmanians are passionate about the tourist appeal of their island home - as well they might. It's a truly beautiful land with much on offer. But try as Giddings and McKim might, they have failed in their attempt to squash the inevitable criticism about the possibility of death-tourism; something that no Tasmanian wants to hear. Putting aside the possibility that restricting access to residents only might be rendered as unconstitutional, the faux residency provisions are a joke meaning that anyone who wants to travel to Tasmania to die need only find a residence for about four weeks before making the necessary appointments.
All of this may be a boon to the travelling Exit International roadshow. When first the possibility of a bill was raised, Dr Nitschke gave media interviews saying that he would set up a clinic on the island to work within the bill. This was played down by Premier Giddings at the time. The reality is that the bill does not and cannot stop this from happening. All a patient would need to do is to sign a document making Dr Nitschke his 'primary medical practitioner' and the process could get under way.
But more than that, there's also an opportunity here for an entrepreneurial type to set up a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) guest house (so popular with holiday makers) to aid with getting around the residency requirements. You could even call it something poignant, like 'The wait-a-while B&B' and market it under the slogan: A short stay to die for!
The opposition have commented to the effect that this bill is akin to the Roman adage about Bread and Circuses given the parlous state of the local economy and other pressing problems. As one comment online to the Mercury article observed:
I support euthanasia totally. I am just a little surprised , possibly cynical, that a Labour/Greens alliance has wheeled this out now .An unholy coalition that has sat in Government for a number of years over a state that has been reduced to beggar status and beyond with the following achievements .. ..50 % of adults unable to read and write properly. ..The lowest income per person. ..The highest unemployment and continuing rate of job destruction. ..The worst hospital and medical care system and on and on... Could this be an attempted PR diversion because they are incapable of performing the fundamentals of normal sound government for all their people? They seem intent on establishing an island walking park for Bob Brown and his mates.
Political point scoring aside, the writer does have a point; a point that will, we hope, resonate with Tasmanians - especially their parliamentarians.