Ethicists say that living will and assisted suicide legislation dangerous. Legislators need to take note.
By Anthony Barich
LJ Goody Bioethics Centre director Rev Dr Joseph Parkinson has called on the Barnett Government to amend the living wills law that passed in June following the Victorian Upper House’s decision to defeat a euthanasia Bill on September 10.
Catholic Church bioethics officials across Australia have welcomed the Victorian Upper House’s decision to defeat the Physician Assisted Dying Bill 25 votes to 13.
Rev Dr Parkinson said the Victorian result was “very gratifying” and reflected that euthanasia is still considered unacceptable “even in the fairly liberal parts of Australia”.
Rev Dr Parkinson said that while former WA Attorney General Jim McGinty had claimed that WA’s Consent to Medical Treatment Bill was not a Bill about euthanasia, “there are many of us who aren’t convinced of that”. “It certainly introduces enough uncertainty about the possibility of euthanasia that we should all be concerned about it,” Rev Dr Parkinson said. He said Australia is still not convinced about the merits of euthanasia, and called on WA’s new government to amend the Consent to Medical Treatment Bill, which passed in June, and “make it clear that euthanasia is not acceptable”.
“Specifically, the amendment needs to go through that advanced health directives cannot be binding,” he said. “We made this point several times to the minister (McGinty) but he refused to take it on board.”
The Consent to Medical Treatment Bill allows West Australians to create a biding advanced health directive – a living will, and enables them for the first time to appoint someone with an enduring power of guardianship so they can make medical decisions in the event the person becomes unconscious, disorientated, etc.
“We need guarantees that there will be no moves to euthanasia in this State. It’s proven to be uncontrollable wherever it’s been legislated,” Rev Dr Parkinson said.
Fr Kevin McGovern, director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics in East Melbourne, said the Victorian decision was “significant”, and said people were swayed during the debate by the ‘slippery slope’ argument and the fact that it would put unfair pressure on vulnerable people.
The Australian bishops, he said, summed it up in their 1995 pastoral letter on euthanasia: “There are big steps and there are little steps. The biggest step is a leap from saying “no one may kill” to saying ‘some may kill’. The little step is from saying ‘someone may kill this person’ to saying ‘someone may also kill that person.
He said the consequentialist argument that euthanasia would put unfair pressure on vulnerable people was also persuasive.
“At a time when we need to be saying to them ‘we will be with you when you’re dying’ and support them, it’s not helping them to die well if we tell them to think about getting a pill to end it all,” he said.
Fr McGovern also warned the fight was far from over.
On September 12, Victoria’s Lower House passed by 48 votes to 28 the Abortion Law Reform Bill, which seeks to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation, and Premier John Brumby expects passage through the Upper House by Christmas.Greens Senator Bob Brown got a cold reception from MPs on September 17 when he introduced a Bill that will give the Northern Territory and the ACT the power to legislate on euthanasia.
Greens MP Mark Parnell announced on August 28 that he would introduce a Private Member’s Bill into South Australia’s Upper House to legalise voluntary euthanasia, though there have been four failed attempts to do so since 1995.