Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Remarkable turnabout in the middle of the night. Euthanasia bill defeated in South Australia.

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Paul Russell
y Paul Russell
Director of HOPE Australia

The second bill this year, the Death with Dignity Bill 2016, came closely on the heels of an abandoned recent attempt in the same South Australian Parliament to enact a ‘Belgium style’ bill. That bill was deemed to be a bridge too far for the parliament. The substitute new bill was seen by many to be more moderate – a ‘good-cop-bad-cop’ scenario.

The bill provided for assisted suicide as a preference but with euthanasia for people who, for whatever reason, cannot take the lethal drug themselves. Once the death is approved, there are no further checks or safeguards, including that further consent (in the case of euthanasia in particular) is not required.

No authorized person need be present at an assisted suicide, placing people in their homes at particular risk.

For the first time in the history of the Lower House of the Parliament, the bill passed the first hurdle (called the second reading) by a margin of 27 votes to 19. As recently as 12 hours before the debate, the numbers were thought to be slightly in favor of the NO vote. Such has been the volatile nature of these debates over the last six weeks that change and uncertainty has become the norm.

South Australian Parliament
A small number of MPs who supported the vote spoke of concerns with the bill but were willing to see the debate continue. This reflects the culture drift where fewer people seem to hold moral or ethical objections that would provide them with a sense of certainty about such matters. Instead, we see an increasing number who see no problems with patient killing or helping people to suicide in philosophical terms, swayed singularly by such matters as safeguards only.

The debate moved on to the committee stage where clauses are debated and questions can be asked of the mover of the bill. Running late into the night–in fact, all night–those opposed to the bill and others exposed many of the shortcomings.

The bill’s mover, Dr. Duncan McFetridge, seemed unable at times to answer questions about his own bill. This is perhaps unsurprising considering that the bill was introduced in an unseemly hurry and was drafted by a third party on McFetridge’s behalf.

When pressed on the question of “doctor shopping,” for example, it took considerable time for McFetridge to acknowledge that a person could, indeed, shop around for the answer that they want.

That a small number of MPs held reservations gave some hope that the situation at the second reading might be redeemable. That would require four MPs to reverse their vote.

That was a tall order in a chamber of 47 persons.

The final vote was taken at 4:02 am. The house divided 23 votes to 23. The bill was defeated on the casting vote of the Speaker.

There is no precedent for what took place in the early hours of this morning. History made at the second reading and then made over in the defeat of the bill at the last hurdle!

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