Last week’s headline in the South
Australian Advertiser: “Bill to allow
euthenasia (sic) in limited circumstances” looks likely to fail in Parliament was
a welcome, if not entirely true, statement. 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against the bill and the rushed second reading vote (later rescinded) must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 MPs’ 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the earlier vote was rescinded five MPs spoke in succession against the bill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,
24 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
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.