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Euthanasia bill author to debate leading ethicist tonight

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Professor Margaret Somerville, pictured on Q&A in April, will debate the author of a bill to legalise assisted dying in NSW, Trevor Khan MLC, on November 20. PHOTO: ABC, YouTube

The author of a bill to legalise assisted dying in NSW will debate Australia’s leading anti-euthanasia ethicist on November 20 in a major coup for the Australian Catholic University.

Trevor Khan MLC, whose Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill may be debated in parliament as early as 16 November, will appear with Prof Margaret Somerville at ‘Rules of engagement: from culture war to reasonable disagreement – a conversation on euthanasia’.

The Nationals MP introduced his Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill in September, giving an impassioned speech in the Legislative Council about the suffering and death of his father.

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Debate had been delayed while MPs were waiting to see the result of a Victorian bill, which passed that State’s Upper House – 22 votes to 18 – on November 3, with a debate about amendments scheduled to begin on November 14.

“Mr President, for me and for others in this place and for so many in our community this is deeply personal,” Mr Khan told the Legislative Council in September.

“Too many of us have watched or cared for a loved one with a debilitating illness and seen them die a horrible and undignified death.”

Prof Somerville spent decades debating many vexed bioethical issues – including euthanasia – in Canada before returning to Australia last year to teach at the University of Notre Dame.

Writing for the ABC’s Religion and Ethics website last month, Prof Somerville warned of the ethical dangers flowing from a “false certainty” shored-up by individual stories.

“Pro-euthanasia advocates are very reluctant to admit that euthanasia has resulted in ‘slippery slopes’ – the extension of access to euthanasia or its abuse if legalised – in the Netherlands and Belgium, but proclaim their certainty, if that is correct, it will not occur in Australia, because ‘we are different’ …

“We hear many heart-breaking stories from pro-euthanasia advocates, who include politicians, of the terrible suffering endured by some people’s loved ones at the end of their lives, their feelings of helplessness to remedy this situation and pleas to “do something” – namely, legalise euthanasia and provide it.

“The preferable alternative of making sure everyone who needs it has access to high quality palliative care, so as to make euthanasia unnecessary, is ignored.”

The NSW bill resulted from a cross-party working group and was co-sponsored by Labor MP Lynda Voltz and Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi, with input from independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich.

NSW Nationals MP Trevor Khan MLC. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The bill stipulates that a valid candidate will be a NSW resident of at least 25 years of age, who is suffering from a terminal illness from which they are expected to die within 12 months. (The patient must be assessed by a primary medical practitioner, a medical specialist and an independent psychologist or psychiatist).

The patient will be able to self-administer a lethal substance, or receive assistance from a medical practitioner.

The ACU debate will be moderated by Prof Hayden Ramsay and will take place at The Peter Cosgrove Centre in North Sydney, beginning at 6.30pm.

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