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Elect a dignified death

By Geoff Wall - posted Friday, 27 February 2015

With state elections due in March 2015, NSW voters may well be underwhelmed by their options. The ALP brand has been trashed by Obeid and co, a dozen or more Coalition MPs have fallen foul of ICAC, whilst the Greens are bickering and sorely missing Bob Brown.

Wide-spread dissatisfaction is being expressed by many voters turning to smaller or single issue parties. Increasingly your vote can support a cause, while allocating your preferences still ensures your vote ends up with the politician you dislike the least.

One such cause potentially affects any one of us: not a lifestyle choice, recreational activity or religious affiliation, but the basic human right to control one’s own life and death, advocated by the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, VEP. The VE movement has been forced to get political because politics has for decades been the stumbling block, repeatedly preventing and once overturning VE legislation.


Consistently over 80% of NSW citizens support VE. This is a level of community support that politicians can only dream of. Why then do our politicians consistently reject VE legislation?

Former Liberal Senator, Federal Health Minister and Professor of Community Medicine, Dr Peter Baume AC provided the answer during the IQ2 euthanasia debate in 2009 when he stated:

Why are religious groups so powerful in Australia? It has to do with electoral arithmetic. No politician will readily alienate 8% of their electorate.”

Currently 8% of Australians regularly attend church, however it is an oversimplification to equate these groups too closely, because ironically a majority of Australian Christians support VE4. It is the policy makers and lobbyists, primarily in the Catholic Church hierarchy, who exercise disproportionate power in the VE debate.

The Catholic Church owes its influence today to a mix of history, tradition, its education system and effective lobbying. It does much charitable work and provides community, spiritual guidance and solace at the end of life for believers. But it remains deeply reactionary: after 2000 years no women hold high office, while divorce, abortion, gay relationships, stem cell research, and birth control are all off limits. It’s safe to say that VE stands no chance.

The Church, especially Roman Catholicism, is going through a tough time at present, all self-induced. Administrative corruption, Vatican bank money laundering and world-wide paedophilia scandals with cover-ups have damaged credibility. However even when down they continue to be highly organised lobbyists and to skew the VE debate. They have every right to advise their followers, but none to override the rights and wishes of an over 80% majority of NSW citizens.


For how much longer can a noisy minority overrule such a massive majority? Until that majority shakes off its apathy and uses its political potential.

Meanwhile, well-meaning supporters both for and against VE toss the same old arguments back and forth. Amidst all the noisy debate however, the bottom line remains unchanged.

It’s this. Death with extreme suffering, though rare, will always occur because medical treatment will never be perfect and disease can be horrendous. It’s a statistical fact in all large populations. Both sides of the debate concede this point, when they agree that no palliative care physician, whether for or against VE, can honestly claim to relieve all suffering in all cases.

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About the Author

Geoff Wall is an independent researcher and Sydney doctor with 3 decades experience working in public and private health in Australia. Primarily an Anaesthetist, he has worked in General Practice, Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care.

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