Sunday, April 3, 2011

Letter to South Australian Lower House

This is a letter that ProLiving has sent to all South Australian Lower House MP's:

Dear Member,                                                    4th April 2011

We are writing in reference to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill 2011

We ask you to oppose it.

We constitute ProLiving, a collective of Australians who directly experience disability and chronic illness in their lives. We advocate a strong public focus on good care and support, including palliative care, as a superior way forward in supporting vulnerable people and addressing suffering.

In debating this Bill we are asking you to carefully consider our disability perspective on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, as found here in our Disability Position Statement On Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide . Twenty percent of your electorate has a disability.

A disability voice on end-of-life issues has been largely absent in Australia - for good reasons:

It is hard to argue that each of us possesses equal human worth to anyone else, when society still widely views us as inferior. Notably, government itself has styled this state of affair as one of social apartheid.

It is hard to argue because many of those things that we live with daily, involve the sort of intimate care and support, that many euthanasia proponents try to escape.

We don't experience indignity when receiving good support. Euthanasia proponents cannot conceive of that.

It is hard to be heard when our perceived 'quality of life' is painted as unbearable, while we want to live life.

It is hard to be heard when your disability involves cognitive impairments, isolation and marginalisation, especially while we know that euthanasia supporters want to do away with such experiences of life by ending it.

It is hard to argue as when we argue for the fair share of control, self-determination or autonomy that society withholds from us in trying to live our lives, euthanasia proponents use exactly those points in arguing for a right to die, which, in our case might become an obligation.

It is hard to be heard when disability advocacy has been unsupported, its funding slashed by the same government that might now sanction killing for reason of ‘intolerable ‘suffering.’

As you must know many people with disabilities remain highly vulnerable in our society. We have many reasons to believe why that vulnerability is important in order to vote against euthanasia Bills, including the Steph Key Bill. You will find those, backed by evidence, in our Disability Position Statement on Euthanasia and Physician-assisted suicide in Australia - March, 2011. We urge you to read it.

While we appreciate there is a technical difference between decriminalising euthanasia, as the Key Bill attempts to do, and legalising euthanasia, the end result is the same. The door is opened to uses of such legislation in respect to those whose life experience might be seen by others as suffering.

With respect to the Key Bill specifically, we note that

Terminal illness is not a requirement;

The eligibility criterion of "suffering from an illness, injury or other medical condition" could easily include disability experience such as for example that of non-terminally-ill Christian Rossiter in WA, as the Hon Parnell acknowledged in regard to eligibility criteria under his failed euthanasia Bill;

What is a "reasonable response to the suffering of that person" is highly subjective, untestable and offers no remedy to the person who has undergone euthanasia;

The Bill does not qualify what "reasonable responses" are, nor what "quality of life" is while the reality for many people with disabilities is filled with inadequate responses to their core human needs, including showering, dressing, and, yes still, segregation. Circumstances that should be remedied by social support, rather than death.

We also know that the hospital system in South Australia is unable to cope and that 56% of responses to the federal government's Shut Out report that disability services themselves are a problem to living their lives well.

Under these prevailing circumstances the defence of having used all "reasonable responses to the suffering of that person" is powerless in avoiding people with disabilities, such as Anne McDonald was, succeeding in applying for euthanasia because what society offers them, in her words, “ is awful.”

While the Bill includes a defence against homicide, for euthanasia-performing doctors where "palliative care measures have not relieved the person's suffering to a level acceptable to the person" we note an absence of universally available, good quality palliative care, as noted by Palliative Care Australia.

Under this Bill doctors will have a nigh unassailable legal defence when performing euthanasia. Many people with disabilities depend on doctors, not only for their health but also for many social benefits, allowances and subsidies where doctors are gatekeepers. Given research showing a high level of negative medical attitudes towards disability, the roles of healer, gatekeeper and life terminator provide such tensions and conflicts of interest that the doctor-patient relationship is severely eroded by it. This further adds to a high vulnerability of people with disabilities.

We regard it as a highly unsavoury - and undignified - spectacle that the ongoing quest for euthanasia legislation, brings out the worst elements in our society, witness Dr Philip Nitschke reportedly already “scouting” for a suitable site for a death clinic in Adelaide. Instead an explicit focus on the best quality and availability of support that people need to live well, would improve the nature of our society where all are included.

 A South Australian euthanasia Bill, including through a 'decriminalisation' backdoor is of relevance to all Australians with disabilities.

This Bill will put pressure on people with disabilities to end their lives so as not to be a burden on their loved ones, their carers or the state.
It tells them that even though we live in one of the wealthiest nations on this planet we prefer insisting on individual rights to be killed, in the knowledge that in doing so, we put people with disabilities at even greater risk than they are already.

It tells them that indeed they do not count.

This Bill is all about protecting doctors, not us.

The onus is on Members of Parliament discussing any Bill concerning ending of lives that they prove beyond doubt that changing the status quo in this way will not make presently vulnerable people even more vulnerable.

The Steph Key Bill fails a key ethical test: “First do no harm.” It is an irresponsible, a-social, unjust piece of legislation, purporting to show ‘compassion’ to a select few. The ‘social’ in social justice means a community-wide regard and compassion for the wellbeing and safety of vulnerable people. Not an abject disregard of their interests where individual choice to ‘choose one’s death’ trumps their right to choose to live it.

ProLiving asks you to search your mind and your heart with such disability perspectives in mind. Any vote on a euthanasia Bill tests our parliamentary resolve on whether we are to be a truly civil society that protects and advances the lives of its most vulnerable members, or a careless one. Again, please read our full Disability Position Statement On Euthanasia and Physician-assisted Suicide or request a copy of a PDF document version at proliving@hotmail.com

ProLiving thanks you for familiarising yourself with this disability perspective and we will follow your debate with interest.

Thank you. 


Dr Erik Leipoldt PhD      
Joan Hume OAM, MA,BA Dip Ed        
John Moxon BA(Hons)