Thursday, February 24, 2005

Right to Die

Looks as though the euthanasia debate is about to be re-ignited in the US as Bush stays true to the RRR lobbyists that worked so hard to get their sock puppet into the presidency.

As with the debate on gay marriage, there will be broader consideration of the limitations or otherwise of the Bush administration to overrule state jurisdiction and effectively negate the will of the Oregon people who have twice approved that state's Death with Dignity Act. Former US Attorney-General Janet Reno's assertion that "the federal government's pursuit of adverse actions against Oregon physicians who fully comply with that state's Death With Dignity Act would be beyond the purpose of the (Congress-enacted Controlled Substances Act of 1969)" is already forgotten, as indeed is conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist's assurance that his Court's rejection of physician-assisted suicide being unconstitutional is not the final word on the debate, rather "our holding permits this debate to continue, as it should in a democratic society."

The Bush administration, however, despite its grandstanding about "bringing democracy" to the far-flung corners of the world, does not believe in the right of its own states' democratic autonomy, just as the Liberal Party did not believe in the democratic autonomy of the Northern Territory when it overturned the territory's compassionate euthanasia laws in 1997.

It's interesting how, 8+ years of Howard later, we can be having a debate on abortion but there's deathly silence on debating the right of elderly, infirmed or terminally ill people to choose to end their pained existences with dignity. Just like the once-strong debate on whether or not Australia should become a republic (which isn't really a debate - the majority of Australians want this to happen in one form or another). It's funny how democracy and "healthy debate" are only relevant when a conservative government wants to impose restrictions on choice and free will; on almost everything else, the book seems firmly closed.

Re-opening the debate on euthanasia in Australia appears nearly impossible, at least so long as Howard is in power. Maybe those pinko commo "judicial activists" can do something about it, but I doubt it. At it stands, the very well-meaning but politically redundant Democrats currently have a Bill to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (that removed the right of the NT, ACT and Norfolk Island to legislate for the terminally ill) languishing in the Senate. The best chance would be for a moderate Liberal to introduce a private member's bill, so that (theoretically) it could have the numbers to pass a vote on whether or not it should at least be debated. Hopefully, what's about to happen in the US might inspire a Lib or two here.

Unlike abortion, euthanasia warrants a healthy debate, and not just between bleeding-hearts versus RRR freaks. There is a very large grey area in between the extreme opposing views which necessarily cuts across the left/right dichotomy. In principle I support euthanasia but in practicality I know there are potential issues of elderly, mentally unsound people being coerced and manipulated for financial gain. I understand that many GPs take very seriously their vow to preserve life rather than end it, but I also know euthanasia is being performed anyway so why not bring it out into the open?

I also anticipate some of the more dangerous element of the far right setting out to "preserve the sanctity of life" by murdering or thretening to murder doctors who perform euthanasia and targetting hospitals or clinics where euthanasia is known to happen for vandalism and destruction.

Euthanasia, like abortion, is an emotive issue and concensus will never be reached between opposing positions. But let's not pretend it's not there to be debated.


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