The recent news concerning Dr Philip Nitschke, Exit International and the suicide death of two men who were not terminally ill has forced the Australian public to confront the issue of assisting someone to die.
As Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt points out, this is not something new. Nor is the public commentary from Dr Nitschke at the pointed end of the debate: when a bill is before an Australian legislature.
When Nitschke comments on such bills there's a noticeable cringe factor among state-based supporters of such legislation, with the most common response being that Nitschke's comments 'are not helpful'.
Even though these organisations have always been effectively 'on the same page' as Nitschke in seeking legislative change, what they reject is essentially that Nitschke tells it like it is. To his credit, he shuns euphemisms and advocates directly for any adult to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide whenever they want - regardless of whether or not they have a terminal illness. This stands in direct contrast to the rhetoric and design of most proposed legislation that seeks to limit access to people who are suffering terminal illnesses. They, the state-based groups, argue for the present (the bill under consideration) whilst Nitschke shows the public the future.
This remains the case whether or not the proponents of said bills genuinely seek a limited remit or not. I have met some who I believe only want such a limited model. But there are others who will clearly understand the incremental nature of such legislation: first get one foot in the door…
So, it is hardly surprising that the man termed 'the other Dr Death', Melbourne urologist Dr Rodney Syme should be bleating on the ABC National news network today saying that Nitschke "represents a maverick who's on the extreme end of the debate." The report continued:
He (Syme) is eager to make sure the public sees that there is "a huge gap" between his advocacy group and the controversial views of Dr Nitschke.
"He is fundamentally not supported by the organisations who support Dying With Dignity," Dr Syme said.He would say that. Syme's organisation, the euphemistically titled 'Dying With Dignity Victoria (DWDV)' is currently working towards a push for their agenda at the Victorian State elections later this year. Syme is clearly concerned that the media furore over Nitschke and Exit makes his agenda harder to pursue. To put it bluntly, the stench makes them stink too!
And it is true that some of the state-based groups have distanced themselves from Nitschke on their websites, but as far as I can see, DWDV is not one of them. It's a while back now, but the DWDV website does say that in 1998 Syme's group, 'organized and supported Philip Nitschke’s election campaign as an independent in Menzies, standing against Kevin Andrews.'
Sure, people take different directions and relationships change. Apart from the frustration that groups like DWDV must feel when Nitschke effectively rains on their parade, this formerly-known-as a Voluntary Euthanasia Society has, itself changed its tune in recent years. But, like the chameleon, it remains the same creature.
Syme and DWDV now supposedly shun the use of the terms euthanasia and assisted suicide, Syme himself arguing in The Saturday Paper a few weeks ago: 'So, let us argue about voluntary assisted dying, not assisted suicide.' (see my reply here)
As I reported earlier, 'voluntary assisted dying' or simply, 'assisted dying' is the new buzz phrase adopted in the UK and elsewhere in recent years essentially because euthanasia and assisted suicide bills were getting exactly nowhere.
Every lobby group looking to prosecute its case will use slogans and adopt the kind of language that they hope will resonate and help them achieve their goal. But we're not talking about run-of-the-mill causes, schemes or projects here. This is about death and the protection of citizens from the ultimate injustice.
More than any other issue, the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide demands that a spade be called a spade.