The Christian Democratic Party strongly
opposes the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill introduced to the New
South Wales Parliament by the Hon. Ian Cohen. The overview of the bill
The object of this Bill is to provide a legislative framework for
the rights of the terminally ill persons to request and receive
assistance to terminate their lives voluntarily. Under this framework, a
terminally ill person may be assisted by a medical practitioner to
administer a substance to himself or herself. If the terminally ill
person is physically unable to administer the substance, the person can
nominate a person to do this.
The Christian Democratic Party opposes this bill because we, and
other honourable members, want to protect the people of New South Wales.
I respect the sincerity of the Hon. Ian Cohen in introducing this bill,
but I believe his sincerity is misguided. We need to protect the lives
of all the citizens of New South Wales, especially the ill, the aged,
those suffering pain, the poor, the uneducated, minorities, racial or
religious groups, or those suffering from HIV-AIDS or other tragic
illnesses. Voluntary consent may be given by a person, under coercion,
by a doctor, by relatives or by other persons who may not be acting in
good conscience. At such a time an ill person may think there is no
other option but to allow someone to end their life.
The word "terminate" really means kill. Modern politically
correct language often hides the significance of an act. For example,
those killed in war are described as being part of a body count. This
bill creates the jargon of "terminating" a person's life.
I shall read a letter written by Montana hospice physician Ira Byock
and published in the New York Times Magazine on 21 July 1996. She
There is a legacy that reverberates beyond a last breath,
depending on how, one way or another, those last days were faced. I
treated a young man with AIDS who begged for me to help him die. His
religiously fundamentalist family was appalled with him. So much was
Gradually the hospice team was able to bring them together, and to
see that father gently bathing his son was nothing short of a miracle.
Just think about that for a moment. It's all right there, the moment of
truth. This man died in peace, and his family will always know they had
loved him, something that wouldn't have happened if I or some other
doctor had listened to his request to die.
That is why I emphasise the need to protect people even from making a
decision that they think is correct at the time but which, in
retrospect, they could regret. Also, we must face the fact that we are
talking about legislation that will allow the administration of a lethal
injection—that is, a poisonous injection. This is not a medical act to
assist life or extend it; it is an act to end a person's life by the
injection of a lethal substance into the bloodstream. We cannot avoid
the fact that such an administration is similar to the manner in which
some States of the United States of America execute prisoners.
The NSW Legislative Council and the other place have debated the
principle of euthanasia. On 15 May 1997 a motion was moved in this House
by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirby of the Australian Democrats. On the occasion
of the introduction of the bill by the Hon. Elisabeth Kirby there was
such strong feeling against the bill that a vote was taken on its first
reading. When the honourable member moved, "That this bill be now
read a first time" members of the Legislative Council divided on
the question, and only four members voted in favour of the motion. They
were the Hon. Alan Corbett, the Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby, the Hon. Ian
Cohen and the Hon. Richard Jones. Thirty-four members voted against the
motion. The opposing members included members of the Labor Party, the
Liberal Party, the National Party, the Christian Democratic Party and so
on. The vote – four for the motion and 34 against the motion – was a
resounding defeat of the bill.
A similar vote was taken when the former member for Manly, Dr
Macdonald, approached the euthanasia issue from another direction. His
objective was to set up a euthanasia select committee. Obviously, he
hoped that select committee would ultimately recommend the adoption of
some form of voluntary euthanasia—or even euthanasia, because no-one
knows what a committee may finally recommend. Obviously, that was the
intention of the former member for Manly, who was a proponent of
When the Legislative Assembly came to vote on the question of whether
the matter should be debated by the House, only three members of that
place voted in favour of the motion. They were Dr Macdonald, Ms Clover
Moore and Mr Windsor. Because I know Mr Windsor does not support
euthanasia, I asked him later why he voted with the other two
Independents. He said that they looked so lonely sitting there that he
went across and sat with them. So only two members of the Legislative
Assembly had real conviction in voting in favour of debating that bill.
The point I am making is that the matter of voluntary euthanasia has
been ventilated and discussed in both Houses of the New South Wales
Parliament, where the proponents have been resoundingly defeated in
probably two of the strongest votes. Some may have forgotten that
history, but people do not change their positions overnight. These are
issues to which all honourable members give a great deal of thought. We
normally maintain the position that we hold. We listen to the views of
others, but we do not overnight lurch from the left to the right or from
the right to the left on an issue.
This is an edited version of a Speech to the NSW Legislative Council, given on 13 March 2002. The full transcript of that speech can be found here.