Friday, 7 March 2014

SA Election notes: beware Dignity 4 Disability Party

When I first heard that a disability group would contest the 2010 South Australian election for a seat in our Upper House I was mildly pleased. Though, on the face of it, they did not stand a chance of gaining a seat, disability issues are very personal to our family and my son Joseph who has Down Syndrome.

Early on, however, a friend warned me that he thought the use of the word ‘Dignity’ was the same usage as for pro-euthanasia groups. His words of caution were to prove to be well founded. Their slogan ‘Dignity through Choice’ is another pointer.


The lead candidate for the D4D party at that election was a Dr Paul Collier. Collier was a very well respected disability advocate. Experiencing a major spinal injury, Dr Collier gained his PhD at Oxford, served on a number of Australian Boards and was an advocate for disability rights including advocacy for what is now known as the NDIS.

Collier was, however, a supporter of euthanasia laws. Sadly, he passed away during the 2010 election campaign. This saw his votes pass to his running mate D4D’s Kelly Vincent who, on the back of a clear sympathy vote for the loss of Dr Collier, gained a seat in SA’s Upper House.

Vincent was and remains sympathetic to euthanasia laws as well. While she (and her party) claimed that she agonized over her support for a euthanasia bill later in 2010 (which I know to be the case), according to a pro-euthanasia information bulletin, in the days after her successful election Vincent told the Adelaide Sunday Mail newspaper, in respect to euthanasia, that some things were ‘worse than death’ and that, ‘There is some call from people with disabilities to have that right’.

She is of course correct to observe that some people living with a disability do want euthanasia laws. People living with disability and their families will hold as wide a range of views on matters social and political as anyone else. That’s no real surprise.

Much of the above is simply history, except for the fact that euthanasia does remain an issue for D4D – but you would not learn that from their website where euthanasia does not even rate a mention.

I contacted the party recently to ask them whether euthanasia was a party policy. The President told me that it was a conscience issue for individual D4D MPs. That may well be the case; after all, most political parties apply the same provisions on this matter. However, in his email reply he went on to write an apologia for a pro-euthanasia position, re-affirming D4D’s commitment to ‘Dignity through Choice’ – echoes of the pro-euthanasia false mantra of choice.

With the South Australian Election only a few weeks away I began surveying candidates’ attitudes to euthanasia by email. HOPE has conducted such surveys in four elections in recent years.

D4D has ten candidates – three for the Upper House (Legislative Council) and seven in Lower House electorates (House of Assembly).  Seven candidates in total have shown support for euthanasia, three said they were unsure. Note: none said that they opposed euthanasia.

This showing is hardly representative of diversity and the natural differences of opinion in the disability community. And it is not that the voices within the disability community that have sound and well-articulated opposition to euthanasia are silent. But it is clear that D4D does not represent them (us).

The peak body People With Disability Australia (PWDA) recently committed a resolution on the matter:
“…state sanctioned euthanasia is dangerous while people with disability are denied access to communication supports, advocacy and other supports or are unaware that such supports are available.”
PWDA’s vision is of a ‘socially just, accessible, and inclusive community, in which the human rights, citizenship, contribution, potential and diversity of all people with disability are recognised, respected and celebrated.’ A far cry from the insipid and indistinct ‘Dignity through Choice’.

Groups like Lives Worth Living in Australia and others like Not Dead Yet in the UK and USA and Second Thoughts speak regularly and campaign against euthanasia with the same passion that they apply to disability rights generally. Clearly D4D does not speak for them (us). (See also articles referenced at the bottom)

Surely, if there are articulate and reasoned disability voices that have a very real concern about euthanasia and personal safety, security and life – as they most surely do – then the default position should surely be the precautionary principle of maintaining the status quo.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with promoting a political cause – especially not disability. But for many, D4D having a clear bias towards euthanasia – even if only in the attitudes of a majority of their candidates – is a bit like, say, the majority of Greens Party candidates being closet supporters of coal-seam fracking or mining of the Barrier Reef. I’d be far less concerned if D4D simply came out and told party members, supporters and the general public where they stood.

If you needed any more proof, take a look at D4D’s Legislative Council Voting Ticket. South Australia has a compulsory exhaustive preferential voting system. D4D has, like all parties, allocated its preferences by giving a number to every candidate (1 to 63). After exhausting the numbers of a short list of other minor parties (who will be knocked out of the race early and will not benefit from such preferences), D4D then preferences the Independent Legal Voluntary Euthanasia Party (enough said), then the Independent Stop Population Growth Now Party (pro-euthanasia), the Liberal Democrats Party (pro-assisted suicide) and then the Greens Party (pro-euthanasia). The only registered party that opposes euthanasia & assisted suicide, Family First, get the last position at numbers 62 & 63!

There will be those sceptics who will, no doubt, read this article as ‘Russell pushing his own barrow again’, and in some sense, they’d be right. But the reality is that the defence of vulnerable people in our community – which will include some people in the disability community (if not many) – is the first priority of a civilized and functioning society and also a casualty of legal euthanasia. In that light, and contrary to D4D, it is the anti-euthanasia position that is the guardian of the most fundamental of human rights.

Be warned South Australians!

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