The Blame Game and Emotions - a good framework for public policy decisions?

  "If the system can be abused it will be abused."  
I blogged yesterday about the announcement by NSW Upper House MP, The Hon Cate Faerhmann MLC launching a video as part of a programmed push in support of her upcoming euthanasia bill.
 
The video features a woman named Loredana  who is suffering in the advanced stages of Multiple Sclerosis. The campaign will feature use of this video and a 'photobook'- presumably of other people perhaps with similar complaints as Ms Alessio-Mulhall.
 
In a Nine News article Ms Faerhmann goes all out on an attack on those with religious views. The lead statement has Ms Faerhmann saying that, people whose religious views are blocking voluntary euthanasia laws are making the lives of vulnerable people even more wretched and should butt out. She is further quoted as saying, "It's time they recognised they are in the minority and got out of the way."
 
Faerhmann also claimed, on the ABC's The Drum program (18 Mar 2013) that most who access euthanasia in jurisdictions where it is legal are, in fact atheists. I'm not sure precisely what point is being made here, but the Belgian twins who died together recently visited their pastor before heading off to hospital to die and, further, I don't think there have been any studies that have determined the religious (or otherwise) views of those who were euthanased.
 
Should people with 'religious views' 'cop-it-sweet' and accept Faerhmann's assertion that they are somehow to blame for making vulnerable people's lives more wretched? It's an easy mark to focus the cross-hairs on organised religion and it seems never to be too far from the public discussion on euthanasia; and, no, people who hold to a particular belief system are not to blame.
 
But atheism is also a belief system. It seems to me that this is not so much about belief systems per se as much as it is about those belief systems that oppose state-sanctioned killing. And, as the presenter on The Drum observed, it's not only people with a religious view that oppose euthanasia anyway. Not only is the focus on religions off the mark, it's almost entirely besides the point.
 
The focus on using the stories of people with difficult conditions like MS and Motor Neurone Disorder, or even those with a terminal illness is a clever move. But it is also one that smacks of some desperation precisely because it focuses on emotions.
 
Consider Ms Faerhmann's observations in respect to Ms Alessio-Mulhall:
 
"She represents a growing movement of people who are experiencing first-hand how cruel our laws can be," Ms Faehrmann said.
 
"Loredana is given every assistance to live an increasingly undignified life, yet society is turning its back on her when all she is asking for is the right to die with dignity."
 
Or Ms Alessio-Mulhall's own comment: "When life gets too difficult, I should not have to beg for mercy to be allowed to die in peace and with dignity," she said.
 
Cruel? Turning its back? Beg for mercy? All highly-charged comments - but is emotion alone a good basis for the formation of public policy? As observed time and time again: hard cases make bad law. This is as much about protecting the rights of all citizens as anything else. A case in point, this comment from the Irish Independent on the court judgement in the recent Fleming assisted suicide case:

The court said that it was impossible to liberalise the law on assisted suicide and at the same time protect vulnerable persons such as the aged, the disabled, the poor, the unwanted and others including those who were financially compromised who may be vulnerable to assisted suicide.

Ms Faerhmann was challenged by The Drum's anchor about the question of safeguards. She responded that her bill - in the final stages of drafting - has 'stringent safeguards'.
 
So, what will these 'stringent safeguards' look like? At this time, we do not know. But I wonder, at this point, whether the bill would be broad enough so as to include Ms Alessio-Mulhall's situation? While Faerhmann says that Alessio-Mulhall is already dying, I doubt that she would fit into any recognisable medical definition in that regard. To include Alessio-Mulhall within the scope of a bill could likely require the bill to be written using broad qualifying statements such as that the patient must be 'hopelessly ill' and 'with no chance of recovery' or similar.
 
But this creates a problem: bills written as broadly as this tend to highlight more easily the reality of the risk of abuse under the law. As another commentator on The Drum said last night: "If the system can be abused it will be abused." How right he is. And to risk making this obvious to MPs is courting failure.
 
And here is Ms Faerhmann's problem: making the safeguards more stringent increases the chances of the bill's success and, conversely, broadening the safeguards reduces those chances. Isn't it possible, as we have seen before, that those pushing for the bill and/or those who are used to front a campaign might ultimately be outside to framework of the bill? This would be a cruel twist.
 
And again, it points directly to the reality that safeguards and limitations on who can qualify will inevitably see a push from people outside those parameters for access to 'their right-to-die'.
 
Ms Faerhmann may well have identified Ms Alessio-Mulhall as a vulnerable person. Whether either of them like it or not, vulnerable people are at risk from euthanasia and assisted suicide laws.

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