Euthanasia argy-bargy - which Senator will jump first?

by Paul Russell:

Western Australia is a long ways away from the rest of the nation. I'm told that West Australians like it that way. Perhaps that might explain why they seem to do their 'politics' a little differently:

A West Australian doctor, Alida Lancee, recently admitted to providing a 'lethal injection' to a woman in her 80s who had 'severe emphysema'. Some of the details of this story were recently released in a book that amounts to a collection of stories about difficult deaths.

Almost immediately WA Premier Colin Barnett, Health Minister John Day, Attorney-General Michael Mischin, Police Minister Liza Harvey and AMA WA President, Andrew Miller all spoke out; most refusing the idea of a change in the law while others affirming the current and proper practice of administering pain relief at the end-of-life. It is unusual in Australia in recent times to note such strong responses by so many public figures and key stakeholders.

The WA Major Crime Squad advised last week that they were conducting an investigation into the matter. Lancee, a member of Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice, predicably said that she thought that the investigation was a 'waste of Police resources' and The West Australian newspaper editorialised similar comments, citing the 'sky-high crime rate' as reason not to pursue the doctor. The editorial continued:

"Yet the police had no choice but to act. And if they lay charges, the prosecution will have little choice but to act and a future judge will have limited choices, too.

"Even Health Minister John Day said if Dr Lancee were charged it "would raise major questions in the community".

"This is the same minister who said at the weekend that it was too difficult for the Parliament to tackle the issue.

"Premier Colin Barnett took the same approach, saying "if you start to legislate for euthanasia, or whatever term you want to use, you get into an absolute minefield".

"Attorney-General Michael Mischin, who is supposed to be the top law officer in charge of creating laws and keeping them up to date with community attitudes, said he had an "enormous amount of sympathy" but "it is a difficult area to craft rules that will draw the appropriate lines".

Indeed; not just difficult - but impossible. But that didn't stop the editorial from making the implicit suggestion that the Premier is heartless. Nor did it stop Victorian Senator-Elect Derryn Hinch from chiming in on what has been for a long time, one of his pet subjects.

Hinch, the television equivalent of a radio 'shock-jock' was elected to the Australian Senate at the July Federal Election and will take his seat in Parliament this week. Hinch has long been a supporter of euthanasia.

He told The West Australian: "For your Premier (Barnett) to say that voluntary euthanasia legislation is not needed is just so insensitive and even ignorant." Because, of course, this is all about emotion devoid of reference to reality.

Hinch joins any number of new Senators who support euthanasia. In 'Senate school' for new Senators conducted last week, the Andrews Bill (Euthanasia Laws Act) that overturned the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of the Northern Territory Parliament nigh on 20 years ago, was used as an example of how a private members bill proceeds.

Hinch says that he will table a repeal-style bill to remove the provisions of the Andrews Bill which would effectively restore the powers to legislate on such matters to both the Northern and Australian Capital Territories. Hinch's bill would be the latest in a long-line of such attempts reaching right back to 1998 and a private members bill tabled by the then leader of the Greens Party, Bob Brown.

Each attempt has failed. It remains to be seen whether this new Senate has any appetite for such a debate. We will also watch with interest to see just who gets to table such a bill in what may become a 'race to the bottom'.

See also:

The Andrews' Bill 20 years on - problems remain the same
Discrimination of the vilest kind - short history of the NT euthanasia legislation  

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