Latest push for mercy killings is dangerously ill informed
Once again euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke is playing games with the law. Today he’s holding a meeting in Hobart to instruct listeners in the finer details of how to dispatch themselves quickly and painlessly.
Dr Nitschke has become an Olympian at skating on thin legal ice. For years he has been pirouetting around Australian police after friends of his received a few words of friendly advice and killed themselves. He was recently grilled by immigration officials in the UK before he was allowed to do a whistle-stop tour for geriatric crowds around the country. He’ll be touring the US in September.
Because he is not actually killing people, just instructing them on how they can kill themselves, he appears to be acting within the letter of the law.
On Nitschke’s current tour, he is demonstrating a simple test of the effectiveness of Nembutal, a lethal barbiturate. You can’t obtain Nembutal in Australia, so he advises his groupies to go to Mexico, where it can be obtained over the counter.
But the odourless, colourless liquid could be a fake or could have lost its potency. Nitschke’s diagnostic test will ensure that it is still lethal.
Tasmanian politicians have ducked for cover as Nitschke’s visit approaches. Health Minister Lara Giddings says that it is none of her business: “If and when there was an allegation that Dr Nitschke had actually broken Tasmanian law it would be a matter for Tasmania Police to investigate.”
Nick McKim, the leader of the Greens, is the sponsor of a private member’s bill to legalise euthanasia in the Apple Isle. Astonishingly, he hasn’t said Boo. Or, rather, he relayed a half decibel Boo through the Hobart Mercury: “We are not associated with anything Dr Nitschke does. What Dr Nitschke does meets a need in the community. My Bill is designed to meet the same need but in a carefully regulated and safeguarded way.”
Why don’t Tasmanian politicians have the guts to tell voters that this Pied Piper of death is possibly the most dangerous man in Australia?
The highest dimension of a politician’s vocation is to create a society in which people feel that they have something to live for. Palliative care has improved so much nowadays that legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide are intended more for people with unbearable lives than with unbearable pain. What Nitschke is really doing is retailing do-it-yourself death for people whom the politicians have failed, people who feel lonely, despondent, unwanted and useless.
And that’s not all. A few years ago Nitschke wrote a book with Fiona Stewart, Killing Me Softly, in which he unveiled the full scope of his vision for euthanasia. The potential beneficiaries of his work extend far beyond the white-haired old dears who toddle along to his suicide workshops.
One of them is Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan. End-of-life care is expensive, Nitschke mused in his book. If voluntary euthanasia lopped a mere six months off the lives of ailing elderly people, immense savings would result:
One can but wonder when a government will have the guts to stop digging the fiscal black hole that is their ever-deepening legacy for future generations. While the enabling of end-of-life choices will not fix the economic woes of the next forty years, it would not hurt, given half a chance.
So the next time you hear a government minister trying to argue why this or that payment or welfare program for single mothers or war veterans must be cut, counter their argument with their fiscal irresponsibility on end-of-life choices.
He also advocated voluntary euthanasia for “the troubled teen” and involuntary euthanasia for seriously ill newborns. Another possible clientele is prisoners—at least those who feel that life behind bars is literally the living end. Voluntary euthanasia, mused Nitschke in Killing Me Softly, may be the “last frontier in prison reform”.
McKim won’t embrace Nitschke because the man is clearly, um, unusual. But he won’t denounce him either because he would have to prove that his “carefully regulated” euthanasia won’t turn into Nitschke’s dark dream of death on demand. If overseas experience has proved anything, it is that it is easy to legalise euthanasia but very hard to regulate it.
Statistics from the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2001, support this. When the figures for 2005 were released, the health minister was exultant because 80% of doctors had reported their euthanasia deaths. This means that 20% hadn’t. Furthermore, it seems that doctors there are switching from lethal injections to “terminal sedation”, or death from starvation and dehydration under heavy sedation. This is basically the same, but involves less paperwork. Dutch doctors, it seems, hate paperwork. No doubt Australian ones do, too. But there can be no regulation without paperwork.
Furthermore, Dutch doctors—like Philip Nitschke—enjoy the thrill of skating on thin ice. Now they are openly euthanasing babies, even though it is clearly against the law. In neighbouring Belgium, euthanasia has also been legalised. Significantly, the first reported death defied the carefully drafted regulations.
Astonishingly, Nick McKim opposes studying his death-with-dignity bill in a Parliamentary committee where some of these issues can be raised. “Delaying a debate [in Parliament] will not make the decision any easier, but it will certainly condemn some terminally ill Tasmanians to an agonising and humiliating death which they could be spared if my Bill is debated in a more timely manner,” he declared in a press release.
McKim says that all the necessary information is already in the public area. This is nonsense. The last time that the Tasmanian Parliament debated euthanasia was more than a decade ago. Much has changed since then. MPs need to be briefed so that they can make an informed, not an emotional decision.
And who better to inform Tasmanians than Philip Nitschke? After all, no one has done more to advance the cause of euthanasia in Australian than he has. And—back in 1997 under the Northern Territory’s short-lived euthanasia act—he was the first doctor in the world to legally euthanase someone. He knows what he is talking about. So why does Nick McKim want to clap him in a cone of silence?
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