Western Australia Senate Group I ~ Voluntary Euthanasia Party

Yeah, this is going to be a more serious one.

I’m not sure I know how to write about the Voluntary Euthanasia Party.  I feel pretty conflicted about the whole idea of euthanasia, to be honest, and I don’t quite know how I feel about a party that makes this their sole platform.  And honestly, it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it at this point, because I’m not the one voting, but it’s quite odd to write about something that I’m really not sure I have a coherent opinion about at all.

The VEP is quite a new party – they seem to have formed in around April 2013, and only contested in a handful of states – and their front page states:

The Voluntary Euthanasia Party was created to provide the choice and dignity that current legislation is denying terminally and incurably ill Australians. The party hopes to provide a clear political outlet for the overwhelming public support for voluntary euthanasia. Over four in five Australians are in favour of new legislation and we wish to allow that sentiment to be clearly demonstrated at the ballot box. The Voluntary Euthanasia Party aims to ensure dignity in the final years of life, by raising the profile of this issue in order to engender the necessary political will for change.

Four in five honestly seems really high to me on this one (they later quote 82% of Australians being in favour of allowing voluntary Euthanasia).  I’d love to see where they got their numbers from and what questions were actually asked, because I would think that the combination of conservative religious people and people who are just kind of repelled by the idea would add up to more than 20%, even if you don’t count the terminally confused, such as myself.  But perhaps I just haven’t been paying attention to this issue sufficiently.

~~~~~~~~

OK, I’ve just went to their Facebook Page, followed a link, and spent twenty minutes reading horrifying stories of insufficient palliative care and I’m beginning to get an idea of where these numbers come from.  It’s fascinating, though, that an issue with so much community support gets so little time in the media and in politics – and of course, that is one of the things that the VEP is trying to change.

The VEP’s lead candidate, Dr Philip Nitschke, has been one of the most prominent people in the voluntary euthanasia debate in Australia since the 1990s.  He is the founder of Exit international, and believes that people have a fundamental right to control their death.  According to his Wikipedia page, he has assisted several people to self-euthanase.  Unfortunately, some young people with mental illnesses have used information from Exit International to commit suicide, which is pretty awful:

Nitschke responded that his organisation has made every attempt to filter to whom they provide information, but that he accepts that despite the disclaimer on the Peaceful Pill website, anyone, including depressed teenagers, could access the information. He said this is the risk Exit International has taken to help vast numbers of elderly and seriously ill people.  “There will be some casualties when you put this information out there, and these are casualties which are tragic … but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense wellbeing from having access to this information”, Nitschke said.

While I get where he is coming from with his response, it turns out that I’m not quite act-utilitarian enough to be comfortable with it.  Possibly this is because I am much more familiar with mental illness and suicidality (from volunteering at Lifeline, and from some personal experience) than I am with terminal illness.

(Honestly, I really do not feel qualified to write about this issue.  I feel like I am being biased and unfair all over the place.)

OK, let’s return to the VEP site, which is relatively sparse.  There is a lot of emphasis on legal safeguards to euthanasia, which I think is very important for the protection of everyone involved, and biographies of all the candidates.  There is, as mentioned, a Facebook page, which has more information overall about the candidates and where they are coming from.  No other issues are mentioned, and, as mentioned above, I think the main goal of this party is to raise awareness and get euthanasia out there as an issue which is talked about and (ideally) legislated.

To get an idea of the VEP’s views on other matters, I am, as usual, turning to their Senate ticket, where they preference our friends Woolf and James, who want to save the ABC.  HEMP, the Secular Party and the Sex Party come up next, followed by the Pirate Party.  If I recall correctly, all of these parties have pro-euthanasia policies (I’m not quite sure about HEMP, but I am about the others). The ticket then splits – one preferences ALP candidate Louise Pratt, before heading Green-wards, and the other preferences the Greens directly ahead of Pratt.  We then have the LDP, which makes sense, given the left-wing, secular, and mildly libertarian nature of this ticket, but I still wish they wouldn’t.  After a few more small and leftish parties, the ticket splits again, one putting Palmer United ahead of the rest of Labor, and the other putting Labor up next.  It all seems to get a bit random at this point, with the two tickets having very little in common, but both concur in putting the two ungrouped independents, Teresa van Lieshout and Kim Mubarak last.  I’m getting a bad feeling about those two independents.  Rise Up Australia, the Australian Christians, the DLP and the Liberal Party all come low on both tickets.

I think how you feel about this party is really going to come down to how you feel about euthanasia, and how important an issue it is to you.  This party really is a single-issue one, and its preferences are intelligently worked out to preference all the parties which support their side of the issue.  It has the feeling very much of a self-help or peer-support organisation, with the lobbying aspect growing organically from a background where members have had personal experience of caring for family members with terminal illness, or who are suffering from degenerative illnesses themselves.  It will be interesting to see how they poll in this election – they look like a safe place for a below-the-line voter to put their vote in order to make a point without actually affecting the rest of their vote too much.  If enough people do vote below the line – a sadly unlikely prospect – this could make for an interesting indicator of how Western Australians really feel about euthanasia…

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4 thoughts on “Western Australia Senate Group I ~ Voluntary Euthanasia Party

  1. Your blog makes for great reading, as always.

    The statistic of 82% support for voluntary euthanasia seems to have come from a 2012 Newspoll, reported here by YourLastRight.com (the peak body for aid-in-dying law reform in Australia): http://www.dwdnsw.org.au/documents/2013/POLL%20WHITE%20PAPER%202012.pdf

    That report sets out the research methodology, question wording and breakdown of results by age, religion and party voting intention (among other things).

    If you have the energy for one more harrowing story, here’s a powerful piece by my friend Sarah Edelman, a psychologist and long-time advocate of dying with dignity, who got a painfully new appreciation of the issues when her own father was dying: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/time-for-politicians-to-recognise-the-right-to-die-with-dignity-20121021-27z9x.html

    • Dear Michelle,

      I’m so sorry this comment didn’t come through earlier – it somehow got trapped in a filter somewhere and I only just saw it. I actually did read the Edelman piece while I was writing this post, and it’s a very good one. I don’t know why this statistic surprises me so much. Perhaps it is simply that the discussion hasn’t caught my attention much since I was at school… Has there been a lot of change in the last couple of decades, do you think?

      Catherine

  2. Dear Cate – the 80+% support for VE is for real. You can check it out in assorted Newspoll results. From memory there’s only about 9% that oppose it. And the rest are the undecideds. Newspoll have been polling on this question for about 25 years I think. Started out with figures of support in the 60+%, and it has progressively gone up with each one – probably as a result of more people watching elderly relatives die.

    Regards Sandra Kanck

    • Hi Sandra,

      I certainly wasn’t trying to imply that the numbers weren’t for real, but I’m honestly shocked. I can’t think of too many issues that 82% of Australians agree on, and I would have expected that VE was too controversial to be one of them. Obviously, this isn’t an issue I’ve been paying much attention to.

      Catherine

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