Monica Doumit: Appalling timing in push for death law

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Under Alex Greenwich’s plan, you can be depressed and anxious and have received no psychological assistance – and successfully request assisted suicide. PHOTO: Joice Kelly/Unsplash

Only a fanatic would push legalised killing right now

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article saying that the NSW Government and NSW Health do not understand western Sydney. I said that the discrepancies evident when sex and scented candle shops were permitted to open while churches remained closed and families remained separated were a barrier to achieving the goodwill and cooperation of those in the west and southwest.

It seems that the out-of-touch disease that was infecting the Premier, the Health Minister and the Chief Health Officer is even more contagious than the Delta variant of COVID-19, at least amongst parliamentarians, because it is clear this week that Alex Greenwich caught an extreme case of it.

Mr Greenwich apparently thinks that the peak of the current COVID-19 outbreak, described as a ‘national emergency’ by the Premier and the Chief Health Officer, was an opportune time to release his euthanasia and assisted suicide bill and plug it in the media.

Euthanasia laws are always bad…[but] the fact that there is even a possibility that they will be put on the table is a scandal.

Mr Greenwich intends to table his bill on 12 August, with a view to debate beginning in September. He is pushing ahead with this timeline, even though leaked financial modelling reports have suggested that we still might be locked down at that time.

It didn’t seem to occur to him that an announcement on the very first weekday that those in southwestern Sydney were facing even greater restrictions on their movement, many of them unable to leave their Local Government Area to go to work, might be a little insensitive.

Mr Greenwich didn’t think to divert his focus from his pro-euthanasia plans to the small business owners facing big losses that will not even come close to being remedied by the various government relief packages, or the families are once again trying to find the delicate balance between working from home and home schooling their children.

Nor did he take into account the greater sense of isolation and desperation being experienced by so many, the evident fear amongst health professionals that the Delta variant of COVID might overrun the health system, and the genuine concern about the long-lasting impacts on an economy that is losing $500 million for every week it is in lockdown.

Doctors’ dire warning on euthanasia push

Most strikingly, there is no evidence at all that Mr Greenwich considered pausing his pro-death campaign while hospital visits are either banned or restricted to one person per day or even per stay, and those in aged care or living in retirement villages are once again deprived of visits from friends and relatives. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary.

“COVID has stopped a lot of things, but it hasn’t stopped people being diagnosed with terminal illnesses,” Mr Greenwich said, justifying his persistence with a massive social change while so many are suffering.

That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. While COVID may not have had an impact on the terminal illness diagnosis rates, it has accelerated the rates of mental illness, and the prevalence of suicidal ideations. And the mental health impact of COVID is entirely relevant to the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill because the bill does not exclude those with mental illness from being eligible for lethal drugs.

Under Mr Greenwich’s plan, you can be depressed and anxious and have received no psychological assistance, and still be killed. The risk isn’t small.

We can’t expect Mr Greenwich to do the right thing, but we can hope the Premier will.

Those with terminal diagnoses who might usually not be inclined to ask for lethal drugs might very well do so now, particularly if they are afraid of facing death in lock down, with relatives needing to jump over bureaucratic hurdles and often plead their case in the media before getting to sit by the bedside of a loved one.

Euthanasia laws are always bad and should always be opposed, but in the current climate, the fact that there is even a possibility that they will be put on the table is a scandal. Mr Greenwich’s pro-death campaign shouldn’t be countenanced by any politician serious about the welfare of those they are elected to serve.

Let’s be serious about protecting the vulnerable

This is where Premier Gladys Berejiklian has an important role to play. The only reason the abortion-till-birth bill passed in September 2019 was because she allowed it to be debated during time usually allocated for Government business. At that time, the Premier reportedly said she wouldn’t do the same for euthanasia, at least not during this term of parliament.

But Mr Greenwich seems confident that debate on his bill will begin in September as planned. Either he is completely delusional in thinking that the Premier would renege on her undertaking and allow valuable parliamentary time to be allocated to debate on a contentious social issue rather than the social and economic recovery this state needs right now, or another closed-door deal has been struck and the public hasn’t been told.

We can’t expect Mr Greenwich to do the right thing, but we can hope the Premier will. After all, we hear her at press conferences every single day telling us that we need to come together to protect the vulnerable, and rejecting euthanasia is an essential part of that.

If you haven’t signed the petition asking her to keep her promises, please sign it here: https://www.noeuthanasia.org.au/protect_life_nsw

Related: