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A failure of moral leadership

By Neil Francis - posted Friday, 28 November 2014

Before Oregon's assisted dying law - the Death With Dignity Act - explained Dr Hugo Richardson, "we saw many patients who felt that they had reached the end of traditional treatment … and that there were no options." Dr Richardson is a Board-certified palliative care specialist at Oregon's largest hospital.

Prior to the law, "we saw many more violent suicides among terminally ill patients," he said, adding that since the Act came into effect (in 1997) "I have seen no violent suicides."

These were common themes that retiring MP and past Speaker Mr Ken Smith and I heard again and again during our visit to Oregon, where we investigated their assisted dying law to help frame effective and responsible reform in Victoria.


Such a law would be of tremendous comfort to dying Victorian man Mr Peter Short and many others like him. Mr Short has late-stage oesophageal cancer, with only weeks to live. He has described how having a choice would provide him with immense comfort, whether he enacts the choice or not.

But these messages have fallen on deaf political ears.

Premier Denis Napthine, in response to Mr Short's repeated requests to discuss the reform and make a referral to the Victorian Law Reform Commission, stated not only his personal opposition to the reform, but that his Government had no intention of acting.

In a recent public event the Attorney General Robert Clark confirmed that a State Coalition Government was opposed to action. His astounding reasoning was this: Greens MP Colleen Hartland had introduced a Bill into a previous Parliament and it had been defeated, so the matter had been dealt with.

Since when did the defeat of the first attempt at a Bill justify abandoning its principle completely and permanently?

But the actual reason for the demise of the Bill is largely unknown to Victorians. In sometimes lengthy speeches in Parliament, many politicians stated that they were not against the reform in principle, but were unhappy with one or other provision in the Bill.


Both sides of Parliament announced that their members would have a non-party vote. The Bill was ultimately defeated, but the travesty of process came when Greens MP Greg Barber immediately moved that the Bill be referred to committee for consultation and improvement so as to attempt to satisfy concerns.

The vote on Barber's motion was not on the Bill itself, but on a "procedural matter about the Bill." Both sides, Coalition or Labor, resumed party-line voting and Mr Barber's motion was resoundingly defeated, including by some of those who had voted in favour of the Bill itself.

What hypocrisy: for so many to say they merely had one concern or other, and then block the very process that could address their concerns.

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About the Author

Neil Francis runs, a website dedicated to reporting facts and exposing misinformation about assisted dying. He is a past President of the World Federation of Right To Die Societies. He was Foundation Chair and CEO of and a past President and CEO of Dying With Dignity Victoria.

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All articles by Neil Francis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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