The ups and downs of euthanasia debates in South Australia

Last week's headline in the South Australian Advertiser:   was a welcome, if not entirely true, statement.Bill to allow euthenasia (sic) in limited circumstances looks likely to fail in Parliament

The bill in question, Steph Key's CRIMINAL LAW CONSOLIDATION (MEDICAL DEFENCES—END OF LIFE ARRANGEMENTS) AMENDMENT BILL, has indeed taken some heavy blows of late.  I've reported before of the doctor's group publicly opposing the bill and the Law Society expressing their reservations.  Into the mix Dr.  Nitschke's interventions seem to have played against the bill and the rushed second reading vote (later rescinded) must surely have added to MP's reservations.

Last Thursday, when the debate resumed and the earlier vote was rescinded five MPs spoke in succession against the bill which provided the impetus for the Advertiser's headline.

But the thrust of the article wasn't so much about the predicted decline of the Key bill but, rather, another MP, Bob Such, talking up his alternative bill.

Such has put up the same Oregon-style euthanasia bill in the last three or four parliaments in succession.  Rarely has his bill had more than a few speech contributions and, previously, it has always languished low down on the notice paper only to fall off at the proroguing of parliament.

The article has Such juxtaposing his bill with Steph Key's proffering his effort as a more reasonable alternative.

"The concern among members is that this one (being debated) doesn't have enough safeguards," he said.  "When you talk about ending someone's life it has to have pretty strict safeguards."

Wow!  Hand-on-heart sincerity; or is it.  The day of the earlier debate when the bill was rushed through to a vote, Such gave a short speech that included the following:

"This bill will allow a medical practitioner, using their normal standards of medical care, to ensure that a person does not suffer and that their life is ended with dignity.  I agree with what the Minister for Health said: the other options are more complex and more complicated but this is a very simple proposal which basically allows a medical practitioner to end a life with dignity… I support this measure." HoA Hansard 24th March 2011.

It must be said that, last Thursday, after the motion to rescind the earlier second reading was passed, Such did ask the Speaker of the House whether that meant that those who spoke earlier could speak again.  It is not clear from the exchange whether Such would have declared a change of mind about the Key bill had he been given the opportunity.

Time will tell us whether Such was genuine or whether this is simply another case of 'any bill will do'; a little like a jockey changing horses mid-race.

Of course, the two bills are distinctly different as Such describes.  The question is whether the 'good-bill-bad-bill' play for votes will work.  No doubt, there will be those who are happier with a safeguards model.  But, as Wesley J.  Smith observed when he was in Adelaide early last year, safeguards are only there to make us feel better about killing people; they are never effective, cannot define every circumstance or the progress of any illness and, ultimately, will very likely be ignored by degrees anyway.

Having said that, the Key bill is not finished yet.  The five speeches last Thursday were all excellent contributions and there will, no doubt be more to come.  But the numbers are far from certain.