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Calls for voluntary euthanasia to be put on the bill

Loredana Alessio suffers from MS. Source: Shayne Higson.

by Joe Bourke.

Leader of the Voluntary Euthanasia party (VEP), Shayne Higson has called for euthanasia to become an issue discussed before the upcoming NSW election.

The debate on voluntary euthanasia was reignited following a Vote Compass survey in Queensland which found that 76% of Queenslanders support it.

Ms Higson said that to not discuss euthanasia would be to ignore the wishes of ‘the majority’ of Australians.

“There have been a number of polls over many years and it [supporting euthanasia] has always been a majority but the majority is increasing as people witness the suffering of either their parents, their grandparents, and even their sons and daughters – younger people – because this is not just about older people…” Ms Higson said

Natasha Mulhall is pro euthanasia, as is her mother Loredana Alessio who is in the late stages of progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

Ms Mulhall said watching her mother suffer is growing increasingly difficult as her decline has worsened in the past two months.

“Up until six months ago she was still speaking quite okay and she’s just in the last month and a half losing her capacity to chew. She can’t chew solid foods and she’s finding it very hard to talk now so when you’re an intelligent person and you don’t have the capacity to talk that’s getting pretty bad.”

Ms Mulhall said that if voluntary euthanasia was legal, seriously ill people would be able to have peace of mind.

“The peace of mind it gives people is just tremendous. They know that if they need it they have that option to be able to pass away safely, there’s a medical practitioner there, and also with their family around.” Ms Mulhall said.

Father Peter Maher, Parish Priest at St Joseph’s Newtown, is opposed to euthanasia and said that people can die with dignity due to contemporary society’s advanced medical system.

“For me and as a Christian, I would argue that we do have in our medical system an approach to people who are seriously ill or approaching death and it has to do with the various drugs that are available, some of which don’t do people a great deal of good but do lessen their pain.” Fr Maher said.

Ms Higson said that pallative care is not good enough to ensure a seriously ill person a painless death.

“Pallative care is wonderful and the Voluntary Euthanasia Party fully supports a well funded pallative care provision. However there are a significant number of people for which pallative care cannot alleviate an amount of suffering.” Ms Higson said.

An argument against euthanasia is known as ‘the slippery slope argument’, where it’s claimed legalised voluntary euthansia would eventually result in non-voluntary euthanasia or less funds set aside for pallative care.

Both Ms Higson and Ms Mulhall said this is not true.

“There are jurisdictions overseas that have had this for many years, and the law, it works. There is no slope or abuse which as our opponents try to say.

“Oregon has had the Death with Dignity act for 17 going on 18 years now, and it works.” Ms Higson said.

Fr Maher said humans have a right to preserve life but in some instances, such as making the decision to switch life support off, the decision should be based on the wisdom of the Doctor and family.

“That genius of human beings is a gift from God, so if we use that for a better outcome for patients who are very ill then we should but when it gets to a point that the wisdom of a medical team just can’t justify this extaordinary means to keep the person alive any longer, we should co-operate with that as well.” Fr Maher said.

Ms Higson said she can’t understand why voluntary euthanasia isn’t on either of the major parties’ election agendas, but said it could be due to such instutions as the Church.

“I believe that the major two parties are controlled by the religious Right [in regards to this issue]. It’s not realistic to believe that not a single coalition member would not believe in this law reform.” Ms Higson said.

Fr Maher dismissed this claim, saying that he believes the reason why it’s not an election issue is because people are more concerned about other issues.

“Sometimes with political issues we get sent a position from the Bishop that we might like to take whereas we certainly haven’t got anything on euthanasia, or anything in this election at this stage.

“It’s quite rare for that to happen, but if the Church were campaigning to make it a political issue and to come out on a certain side then I would have got something, but I think the Church has got enough things on its plate as well.” Fr Maher said.



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