NSW push for euthanasia laws

  Like many MPs supportive of euthanasia & assisted law reform, Cate Faerhmann MLC, member of the NSW Upper House is nothing if not persistent. 
Ms Faerhmann continues to promote her private members initiative that, as news reports suggest, may rise in the NSW Upper House for debate sometime this year.
 
In the NSW parliament, private member's bills are drawn randomly from a ballot at regular intervals. Like any private member initiative, the bill may or may not be debated, depending on the 'luck-of-the-draw' and other factors.
 
This has not stopped Ms Faerhmann from promoting her initiative. She has been discussing her objective at public meetings around NSW in recent months. In an unusual move, at least one such event included Dr. Nitschke as a guest speaker. I say 'unusual' because, for most MPs pushing this legislative agenda, Dr. Nitschke's views are seen as extreme and 'unhelpful' because, while MPs will push for a 'limited access' to euthanasia and/or assisted suicide, Dr. Nitschke has a much broader agenda.
 
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Ms Faerhmann is launching a 'social media campaign' featuring MS sufferer and long-time campaigner, Loredana Alessio-Mulhall. The report also says that 'NSW MPs will be sent a letter and booklet containing personal stories about people who want the right to die.'
 
In March 2011, in the lead up to the NSW election, Ms Alessio-Mulhall featured in a debate on the subject. She told the Sydney Morning Herald''With MS there are so many losses,'' said Ms Alessio-Mulhall, who is in escalating pain from nerve damage. ''I cannot move. I cannot write. I badly miss being able to read. I can't move my chair any more … I love gardening but I'm getting to the stage where I'm losing interest, and that upsets me. It takes a lot of courage to stay on top of it, and I've reached the end of mine.''
 
In the same article she is mentioned as preparing to travel to The Netherlands for euthanasia. In the most recent article she is quoted as saying: ''I don't want to die now, but I'd like the choice when I'm ready.''
 
Her situation is difficult. Clearly Ms Alessio-Mulhall has changed her mind over the last year from being ready to go overseas to die to not being ready to die just yet. The article does not speculate as to her reasoning - and neither should we, but it does offer a point for reflection on why people might consider euthanasia & assisted suicide and the ever-present possibility that such a request might subside given time and other factors.
 
Certainly, as observed by Fr. Frank Brennan in respect to Ms Alessio-Mulhall: 

The law is always a blunt instrument. It draws lines - creating rights and obligations...If the lines drawn with this blunt instrument are to be redrawn to accommodate Loredana's right to die how and when she likes, there will always be another Loredana who wants the lines redrawn yet again until we reach the stage that the many Loredanas will be agitating for the right to die whenever and however the individual seeks it.

A blunt instrument indeed; and we know the reality that hard cases make for bad law.
 
As with the famous case of Tony Nicklinson in the UK, there's a tendency to assume, when reading a tragic story like that of Ms Alessio-Mulhall, that all MS sufferers share the same experience - that they would perhaps all want to die. But, just as with people with Locked In Syndrome, this is not the case at all for all MS sufferers.
 
Moreover, again in a similar way to Nicklinson, there's a subtle negative message inherent in the presentation of these cases about our attitudes towards disability. We walk a very dangerous road when we allow ourselves, as a society, to say, perhaps even in agreement with some individuals, that you have a disability so, therefore, we accept that your life is not worth living. Why? Because when we talk about laws of this nature it is never really about the individual. There is certainly an element of personal choice, yes, but autonomy ceases to be a reasonable objective precisely at the point where the rights of others are diminished.
 

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