6 September 2017

Canberrans suffer needlessly

| John Paynter
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Why are people who are currently dying in Canberra hospitals being subjected to cruel and needless suffering as a result of the infamous “Andrews Bill”? What happened to democracy for the territories? Why should federal politicians use their power to deny Territorians their democratic rights?

As a society, we should have evolved enough to separate church and state. While politicians have every right to their own religious beliefs, they have no right to impose their beliefs on those of their beneficiaries against the democratic wishes of the electorate.

Let me explain my frustration. Following an extensive debate, The Euthanasia Laws Act 1996-1997 was passed by both houses on the 25 March 1997. It became the first and only legislative measure anywhere in the world to completely overturn existing euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation. It was almost certainly religion-based and was introduced by Labor’s, Tony Burke and Liberal’s, Kevin Andrews. The act has become known as the Andrews Bill and is a shameful example of anti democratic processes turned against the territories. Since that time, thousands of people have suffered needlessly in Canberra’s hospitals as evidenced by the great work of Andrew Denton in his publication “The Damage Done” 2016.

In August 2016, Andrew Denton published his book in which he chronicles the stories of many relatives and friends who, like myself, were forced to watch in utter horror, as their loved ones died in agony.

Let’s start by getting some terms straight. In his book, Andrew Denton includes the following definitions:

Assisted Suicide. (Not the same as assisted dying). “A competent person dies after being provided with the means or knowledge to kill themselves by a friend, relative or other person. It is a crime to aid or abet another person to commit or attempt to commit suicide.”

Medically assisted dying. (Used to help patients who are dying and wish for a less painful end of life). “A doctor provides a patient with a prescription to obtain a lethal dose of a drug. Assisted dying is illegal throughout Australia, but increasingly there are cases of doctors providing patients with drugs to end the patient’s life, upon their request. These doctors have not been prosecuted.”

Voluntary euthanasia. “A doctor injects a competent patient, at their request, with a lethal substance to relieve that person from unbearable physical pain and suffering. Voluntary euthanasia is not legal in Australia.”

Palliative care. (Paraphrased) A range of treatments intended to help alleviate the pain of dying. The on-line Etymology Dictionary describes the origin as from medieval Latin, meaning: ‘under clock, covert’. The 13th Century Priest St. Thomas Aquinas is credited with the credo of palliative care “we shall neither prolong nor hasten death.”

In my case, the doctors claimed they could “do no harm” and yet removed all nutrition and hydration so that my partner died of thirst; a terrible way to die. Various web sites discourage people from attempting suicide by lack of water since it takes several days or even a few weeks. I find this interesting given that the “no harm” doctrine is used to disallow a quick, painless death, but removing all hydration, which ensures a slow painful death, is considered to be OK.

Another important fact to note, is that according to a speech by Andrew Leigh to Parliament on August 17, 2015, “three out of four Catholics, four out of five Anglicans and over nine out of ten Australians with no religion say they, in principle, support voluntary euthanasia”.

So, given this enormous support at the territory level why was the Andrews bill introduced? If we are a secular nation, what possible reason can there be to go against the democratic wishes of the elected representatives of the people? According to the Canberra Times, the Greens’ Shane Rattenbury, and ACT Senator, Katy Gallagher have called for the undemocratic bill to be abolished. It’s about time that we return to democracy in the ACT.

Do you believe in the separation of church and state? Should religious teachings have any influence in our democracy?

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My beloved father would have loved to live. He was only in his 60’s, working and the centre of family life. However final stage brain cancer took that choice away. His last weeks were without dignity and terrifying for him and all those who loved him. He was not given the choice to pass into that other world with dignity.

if you needto die
you are terminally ill
ur not enjoying ur life
not coping well .
u should br allowed to
simply pass away…xxx

if you research end of life care, patients don’t usually ‘die of thirst’. artificial nutrition at this point in time will not make them feel any better. it might give them one more day or two but that’s it.

Melinda J Sebastian3:36 pm 09 Sep 17

My opinion is that I strongly feel that voluntary euthanasia should be legalised. Also, I’m an organ donor, so as well as me not having a painful death, I could give life to others before cancer etc spread to all of my organs, giving me a painful death and taking away the chance to save other people who strongly want to live.

John Paynter2:03 pm 09 Sep 17

Thanks for your comment. Our views matter.

John Paynter10:10 am 09 Sep 17

@Ian Wood
Thanks Ian, I am very flattered by your comment. The flagrant disregard for our democratic rights continues to amaze me. The comments hearten me that there are so many good people fighting this fight.

John Paynter10:05 am 09 Sep 17

@Tara Cheyne MLA
Thanks for your supportive comments. I have signed your petition as well as Caroline’s

John Paynter9:59 am 09 Sep 17

Thanks so much for your comment. I note that your link has an extra “.” so it doesn’t work. For the petition try http://www.actgreens.org.au/dying_with_dignity I will be signing.

CarolineLeCouteur1:19 pm 08 Sep 17

The Greens believe that Canberrans, just like all Australians, should have the right to make choices about their own life and death. At the end of their life, citizens in the ACT should have the right to die with dignity, how and when they choose. For many people there are few choices more important.

If you believe that people should have the right to make a choice about euthanasia at the end of their life AND you believe that the ACT should have the power to make its own laws, please sign our petition today: http://bit.ly/2gM8OrO.

Tara Cheyne MLA7:15 am 08 Sep 17

Thanks for this important piece, John.
You might be interested that I and a number of other MLAs are running a petition seeking the restoration of the our right as a Territory to determine our own laws regarding voluntary assisted dying. I would encourage you and others to check it out and add your name: http://taracheyne.com.au/RestoreTerritoryRights/

Very well put, John Paynter.

Twenty years experience in Oregon, USA, clearly demonstrates that a Voluntary Assisted Dying law does work, and works well. It is used by very few, but provides comfort to many more, just by knowing if the suffering gets too extreme, the choice to access compassionate assistance is available.

I note that Bill C-14 Medical Assistance in Dying legislation was passed by the Canadian Parliament last year, after a Canadian Supreme Court decision that the prohibition on assisted dying was against the Canadian constitution and the rights of Canadians.
It is also notable that the Canadian Medical Association endorsed Bill C-14 Medical Assistance in Dying legislation, saying “The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased that historic federal legislation on medical aid in dying is now in place.” The CMA went a step further, and prepared a Framework for the implementation of Bill C-14.
There is obviously a need for our politicians, and the AMA, to accept the facts on this issue and come to a position of support. There is no valid reason to deny this option to Australians. Major nursing groups such as the Nurses and Midwives’ Association agree that assisted dying choice is needed.

There is a long waiting list of people with terminal illnesses who need end of life palliative care at the facility at Barton.
If a way cannot be found to legalise voluntary euthanasia then more palliative care facilities need to be built, urgently.
Death with dignity is a more important issue that painting rainbows on buses.

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