Tasmania euthanasia bill: debate begins today

Debate begins today in the Tasmanian Parliament on the bill proposed by Premier Lara Giddings MP and her colleague, Nick McKim MP. More than two years in the making, this is a decisive day for all Tasmanians. This morning I received a picture via the twitter feed of a Tasmanian journalist under the heading, "Dying with Dignity members outside State Parliament ahead of today's voluntary euthanasia debate."The picture shows a dozen people holding signs saying 'I'm part of the 80%". This is a reference to a recent survey of Tasmanian's attitudes conducted by Dying with Dignity that says support in the island state is at four-fifths of the population.

The survey uses the same question that has returned similar results in other Australian Polls:

Thinking now about voluntary euthanasia, if a hopelessly ill patient, experiencing unrelievable suffering, and with absolutely no chance of recovering, asks a doctor to have his or her life ended, should the law be changed to allow the doctor to comply with the patient's wishes?

As has been noted many times before and as the Tasmanian Research Paper by Graham and Pritchard points out this, 'could be misleading because of unclear specification of what is involved in this umbrella term' and 'opinion poll results bear limited relevance to the quality of the specific model (and accompanying bill) being proposed by Giddings and McKim. A "yes" in principle does not equate with informed consent and unmitigated support for the details and practices they are putting forward.'

I can't help but make the observation, as many readers no doubt already have, that the picture is hardly representative of the supposed 80% support! But to be fair, it is a working day. Even so, it does tend to support the belief that support for euthanasia is, at the very least 'soft'. That people might feel compelled towards a compassionate response when a phone poller calls or when a clip board is thrust in front of them at the local mall; but when the chips are down it's not something that is front of mind, compelling people to get active.

This was also borne out by a comment I heard this morning that MPs are reporting that the letters and emails opposing the bill are outweighing those in favour by that same margin of 80% to 20%. This is telling: even accepting the fact that there may be majority support for legislative change, soft as it is, those opposing legislation are far more committed to action than their opposition. In other words, it matters more to more who oppose the changes than those proposing them.

When it all boils down to it, if you were an MP, would you be more concerned about how your vote on this issue would impact the 20% or the 80% who contacted you?