A couple of weeks ago, the Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices of the Western Australian parliament (Committee) released its report into end-of-life choices.
Ominously named My Life, My Choice, the report did not even bother with a veneer of impartiality when it came to the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in that state.
The bias is evident throughout the majority report, most keenly in its dismissal of key concerns about the consequences of the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide which were contained in hundreds of submissions made to the year-long inquiry.
Instead of addressing the concerns in any detail, they were roundly dismissed as lacking in ”rigorous evidence.”
Taxpayer money well spent?
While we’re on the other side of the country to WA, ideology can travel here faster than the Red Eye, so I think it’s worth highlighting a few key things about the WA report.
The first is that the report recommends that an imminent death should not be necessary for access to euthanasia and assisted suicide, stating instead that requiring death to be expected to occur within a predicted timeframe means “some individuals being unfairly excluded.”
In a similar attempt at “inclusiveness,” the report also recommends that a patient does not need to be suffering from a terminal illness to access euthanasia. Instead, chronic or neurodegenerative conditions are also equally valid reasons for accessing lethal drugs, with the relevant criteria being a subjective assessment of suffering.
Along these same lines, the report does not consider that physical symptoms should be necessary for access to euthanasia and assisted suicide, with “existential suffering” being considered equally as valid a reason to die.
Alarmingly, it uses the concept of existential suffering as support for its claim that not all end-of-life suffering can be palliated, to support its proposal for legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide.
And this is just one of the mistreatments of palliative care described in the report. One of the revelations contained within the report is that WA has the lowest number of publicly-funded palliative care beds per capita in the country, and that access to specialist palliative care is otherwise limited across the state.
In particular, the report highlighted that access to palliative care is further limited in rural areas and almost non-existent in remote regions. In addition to the lack of beds, the Committee also reported on the lack of carers.
WA is tied with South Australia as having the second lowest number of FTE palliative care nurses per capita too. Probably most alarming is the Committee’s complete unwillingness to engage with legitimate concerns about the abuses and expansions of the practice in places where euthanasia and/or assisted suicide has been made legal.
Instead of addressing head-on what can broadly be described as “slippery slope” arguments, the Committee roundly dismisses them by presenting them as straw man arguments which can be easily torn down.
For example, many of us would have heard the recent reports that last year, three children were euthanised in Belgium, following the expansion of that country’s regime to minors. One of those children was just nine years old.
In its report, the Committee acknowledged that Belgium originally limited euthanasia to adults, and ended up removing the age restriction, but concluded that this was not evidence of a “slippery slope” because the same change has not also occurred in Oregon, a jurisdiction in which assisted suicide has been legal for 20 years.
The Committee found, it seems, that unless and until all jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide is legal go down the Belgium path, then any concerns about the expansion of euthanasia to minors are simply unfounded.
That the logic behind that justification found its way into the majority report of a joint parliamentary committee is just astounding,
Another example is the Committee’s dismissal of concerns about the effect that legalised assisted suicide has on the general suicide rate; what is sometimes referred to as “suicide contagion.”
Instead of responding to statistics issued by government bodies that point to an increased suicide rate across the board in jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal (eg the Oregon Health
Authority reports that in 2014, Oregon’s general suicide rate was 43.1per cent higher than the national average), the Committee instead highlighted studies that came to a similar conclusion but had been subject to criticism.
Rather than addressing the best of its “opponent’s” argument, the Committee chose the worst: a clear lack of intellectual integrity.
Thankfully, not all was lost. Committee member, Nick Goiran MLC, obviously unwilling to put his name to such a sloppy report, produced his own dissenting report, close to the length of the majority report, challenging its findings and coming to different conclusions.
Good on him.