Drop dead disgrace

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NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet speaks during a press conference at NSW Parliament House on 5 October 2021. Photo: AAP, Dean Lewins

Two leaders, both the heads of their respective parties, opposed euthanasia in NSW.

Yet it still became the law. Instead, internal opposition to the legalised killing of patients was conveniently left to a few heroic individuals.

As much as anything else, Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns, both Catholics, failed the most important test of all.

In the wake of euthanasia’s legalisation in NSW, Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns equally face the most serious question of all: in a moment of mortal crisis and as a moral disaster loomed, were the men who style themselves the leaders of the state of sufficient calibre to meet the evil? Did they do enough? The almost certain answer is no.

When Premier Perrottet fronted a media conference following the final passage of the legislation through the Parliament last Friday, those who had campaigned tirelessly against media indifference and prejudice towards the sanctity of human life and against the lies of the euthanasia lobby were left stunned.

“I’ve always found these conscience debates bring out the best in our parliamentarians.”

Despite his personal opposition, Mr Perrottet said, the journey toward the passage of laws allowing euthanasia had ‘brought people together.’ Euthanasia, he said, should be a “last resort”.

The process of legalising the ending of human life had ‘brought people together’? Killing patients should be a “last resort”? Had the Premier taken leave of his senses? But there was more. Somehow, Mr Perrottet went on, that the political debate had been far more non-confrontational than might otherwise have occurred was some kind of a positive.

“I’ve always found these conscience debates bring out the best in our parliamentarians,” he blandly told media on Friday.

Bizarrely, he credited Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich, the author of the new euthanasia law, going so far as to appear in front of the assembled media in remarkably collegial fashion with the individual responsible more than any other person in the state for imposing legalised killing on NSW.

“I think he set a tone for a deeply respectful and sensitive debate on, I think, an issue that people come from their different perspectives,” Mr Perrottet told media.

Footage shows Members of the NSW Legislative Council standing for a vote during the third reading of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021, which has made euthanasia legal in NSW. Photo: Courtesy Parliament of NSW

Was the loss of the sanctity of human life in NSW an unparalleled tragedy in the entire history of the state? One would have thought now was the moment to say why in terms of exceptional directness, authority and clarity that only a Premier can exercise. But no.

Instead, the Premier treated the issue as more of a disagreement. “… [C]learly the majority of the parliament disagree with me, and that’s okay,” he said. “That’s the very nature of the great democracy that we live in and there will always be different views. “

Those left wondering whether the Catholic Premier had taken leave of his senses watched in amazement as he said he was ‘proud’ that the NSW Parliament had presided over a respectful, tolerant and sensitive debate. “Sometimes, in the past, debates like these can tear us apart,” he added.

“I think it’s brought us more together.” Yet we could not, for example, ever contemplate that a debate over slavery in which those in favour of its barbarism won could ever be characterised as “okay” or a “bringing us together.”

No-one could call a debate over the consignment of ethnic groups to the concentration camps and which ended in that outcome a ‘unifying’ experience.

“[Premier Perrottet] invited the individual who had just made it mandatory for Catholic healthcare and nursing organisations – and others – to cooperate fully in the killing of their patients and residents to stand beside him at a press conference as he spoke.”

The performance was bizarre and surreal, constituting one of the most humiliating examples of meek acceptance of evil ever seen. Premier Perrottet has not, to The Catholic Weekly’s knowledge, denied the truth of the media reports of his remarks.

Instead, he invited the individual who had just made it mandatory for Catholic healthcare and nursing organisations – and others – to cooperate fully in the killing of their patients and residents to stand beside him at a press conference as he spoke.

Meanwhile, NSW Labor Opposition leader Chris Minns, also a Catholic, could hardly escape the same criticism.

Like the Premier, Chris Minns now has explaining to do. His speech given on 12 November last year opposing euthanasia lasted just 5 minutes.

In other words, five brief minutes was the most the Leader of the Opposition could find to argue that healthcare organisations – including Catholic hospitals – should not be forced by law and against their most fundamental ethical principles to collaborate in killing.

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns
NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns speaking at a community meeting for Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Contrast those 5 minutes (and Premier Perrottet’s 16 minutes on 14 October) to the two successive days dedicated by Labor MLC Greg Donnelly as he valiantly attempted to at least ameliorate by amendment some of the most obscene measures of the Greenwich bill. The combined time both leaders spent on their feet opposing euthanasia was therefore 21 minutes. The difference spoke volumes.

Both Mr Minns and Mr Perrottet are serious political operators, shrewd, tactical and strategic enough to rise to the top of their respective parties’ ladders.

Both could have mounted prolonged, effective and strategic opposition to the slow moral evil eclipsing their parties.

They might have won. They might have forced amendments.

Instead, their comparative lack of action constituted a comprehensive political failure when their leadership was needed most.

“What the public therefore witnessed was a political failure by the Premier and Leader of the Opposition that was also a calamity, a loss of nerve and a loss of courage …”

As such, their record in dealing with the issue contrasts shamefully with the heroic resistance offered by lesser ranking members of their parties such as Liberal MLC Damien Tudehope and Labor MLC Greg Donnelly. Compared with the examples of their leaders, these, together with like-minded MPs, mounted an opposition that can only be described as heroic.

What the public therefore witnessed was a political failure by the Premier and Leader of the Opposition that was also a calamity, a loss of nerve and a loss of courage to attempt to shift heaven and earth to prevent a social disaster, to try.

Writing on the eve of World War II and mourning the great Irish poet WB Yeats, WH Auden, himself one of the most influential poets of the 20th Century, summed up not only the vision of his fellow poet but also the essence of the time:

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

A girl leads a demonstration headed by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and fellow political, civic and religious leaders urging NSW not to legalise euthanasia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Both intellectual disgrace and indifference to moral evil triumphed, so to speak, as euthanasia was legalised by the NSW Parliament last week.

They triumphed because of a political failure that was disgraceful.

They triumphed because the two individuals with the most political capital and authority to bring to bear in opposing such a victory looked very much as if they lost their nerve and didn’t have the stomach for the fight.

But these were not all. Perhaps as much as either of these, euthanasia was also a victory for fundamental ignorance of the worst kind and a victory for the lie that a diagnosis of terminal illness necessarily means to die in unbearable suffering.

Euthanasia could not have been legalised if any of those prepared to legalise it knew the truth or were prepared to open their minds to the facts rather than the lies they so gullibly consumed. Its victory has begun the freezing of the seas of compassion and pity in the human hearts of our society.

“Evils such as euthanasia certainly depend on the superior numbers of ignorance – but they also depend on the failure of good individuals to resist with total commitment.”

Like children too bored to pay attention to a teacher preparing them for an exam, it is now clear an overwhelming majority of representatives in the state’s Parliament had no idea what they were actually doing. And so they failed the exam of life.

Mr Perrottet and Mr Minns both failed the most elementary test of leadership. Leadership, after all, is not about revelling in glory and popularity, but speaking the truth when the truth is not popular – even if it means paying the price.

Evils such as euthanasia certainly depend on the superior numbers of ignorance – but they also depend on the failure of good individuals to resist with total commitment, those who assume the situation is too difficult to do anything about.

Those who stood for life are fully entitled to ask where Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns were in the lobbying, the campaign to communicate the reality of euthanasia, the parliamentary cut and thrust necessary to opposing it? Neither can realistically expect that their minimal commitment could be construed as decisive leadership.

And so it is that we can ask what chance did the advocates for the sanctity of life in NSW ever have when both ‘leaders’ – both Catholics – basically went missing in action in a crisis? The sick, the elderly, the vulnerable and – as we now know – an ever-growing category of many others must now pay the price for their mediocrity.

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