Baby boomers will not lie down and die an undignified death
There is probably no other issue in Australian public life that can claim such increasing levels of support over the past decade. On the most recent polls, 84 per cent of ALP voters and 82 per cent of Coalition voters support it. Even 77 per cent of Catholics and 88 per cent of Anglicans want to see reform of the laws around it. These levels of support are also recorded in many modern European and Scandinavian democracies.
What we are talking about is dying with dignity, or voluntary euthanasia.
With such overwhelming levels of support, how come the matter is not being embraced by most state or federal politicians? One has to wonder why, because the subject is not one that will go away soon. The increasing number of baby boomers who are entering the latter phases of life will ensure that.
This is a generation that will not lie down and die an undignified death in the face of a religious argument or any other form of moral blackmail and persuasion. They will face suffering in a politically committed way. Remember that it was this generation that stopped the Vietnam War and, as a consequence, the suffering of a nation of peasant farmers.
It seems the reason that so many politicians are prepared to fly in the face of public opinion is because the matter is based on deeply personal and often religious values that strike at the core of people’s being — rather than their thinking and political headspace. Newspoll figures showed that for 80 per cent of respondents, voluntary euthanasia was of personal importance rather than a public issue.
Politicians who have not tasted the bitter end to a family member’s life, and especially those of a religious persuasion, often prevaricate and talk about the moment of death being “God’s will”. Or they argue that they don’t want old people being put down like dogs just because they are not useful anymore.
But these arguments pale into insignificance alongside the deep and unnecessary suffering that many people will go through in the end stages of their lives.
Just when we thought the light might have gone out for genuine reform in this area, a ray of sunshine has appeared on the horizon.
Mid next year, the Victorian government will allow Labor members a conscience vote on a bill to legalise some form of voluntary euthanasia.
This decision is in response to recommendations of the Victorian Parliament’s end of life choices committee report. The inquiry was initiated by the Australian Sex Party leader and upper house crossbencher Fiona Patten, who was also a member of the committee.
After members visited a number of countries where some form of voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted dying was legal, the committee came down with a report that encouraged the government to set up some basic ground-rules that would allow people in dire straits to make an informed decision about ending their life in a peaceful and dignified way.
It appears that some conservative members of the committee moved much more to the centre ground as a result of their research. Patten also moved towards the centre and embraced a more pragmatic and politically acceptable set of recommendations.
Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews recently experienced the death of his father from cancer. By all accounts, this harrowing experience may have changed his attitudes and opened his heart to the possibility of a new way of dealing with death and dying for all Victorians.
If, as is possible, the Victorian legislation succeeds, it is likely to open the way for the Northern Territory and the ACT (and possibly two other states) to follow suit and also pass meaningful dignity with dying legislation. If that occurs, the suffering of the nation will be greatly reduced and the national consciousness will be greatly enriched.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University and the author of 39 books, including the memoir ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey.’
The Canberra Times, 9 December, 2016
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