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What happens when those who care support killing?

By Greg Donnelly - posted Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Whenever a poll is taken asking people to identify which profession they trust the most, nursing invariable is listed at the top, or very near the top. In fact I cannot remember it being otherwise. Nurses stand out head and shoulders above everybody else because of the devotion, skill and care that they show towards the people they look after. They do not do it for the money or glamour or fame, or anything other than the real satisfaction that comes from giving your all to look after and support another human being in need.

All of us know what I am talking about. We know because we have personally had the experience of being looked after by a nurse at some stage during our life. Alternatively, we may have observed a family member or friend being given that support and care coming from someone who is not just doing a job, but fulfilling a personal vocation.

And if asked what makes nurses so special, most will answer by saying that they accept us for whoever we are and whatever our condition. They are accepting and they do so without any conditions. And above all they can be trusted. Trusted to help us in our hour of need. They are there to look after and guide us, and protect us from being harmed or perhaps harming others. That trust is the invisible golden thread that connects the patient and the nurse. It is special, profoundly human and must never be compromised or betrayed.


For this reason, it is so deeply troubling to see the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) approach with such relish and enthusiasm, support for euthanasia in that state. While I have high regard for the way the union represents the workplace interests of nurses and midwives, its highly partisan involvement in the political debate over legalising euthanasia is causing great unease amongst its members and within the community at large. Moreover, what is particularly disturbing is that the union's leadership seems absolutely determined to ignore and dismiss concerns out of hand.

Lest there be any doubt about the jaundiced approach being taken by the union, visit the website of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) and read the associated articles, media releases and posts along with viewing the videos. To start with, the union speaks with great enthusiasm about partnering with media personality, Andrew Denton and the organisation Go Gentle Australia. Denton and Go Gentle Australia are unequivocally committed to bringing about euthanasia legislation. Achieving this outcome is seen as a political objective that requires the execution of a political campaign. What we are seeing is Denton and Go Gentle Australia going about executing that campaign, as they are entitled to do. However, the question is on what basis does the union believe it has the authority to pursue legislative change that would legalise the act of one human being killing, or being party to killing, another human being?

It is interesting to note that the union, at least in some of its branches, is giving Andrew Denton complete carte blanche to proselytise his views. In one recent branch journal I have read he is given two full pages to run-out his pro-euthanasia line. In the follow-up edition of the journal, all the letters to the editor were predictably favourable to the Denton line. No alternate view, no dissent, just slavishly repeating Denton's lines.

Of particular concern also is the "whatever it takes" approach being taken by the union when it comes to backing euthanasia legislation. On the very day the South Australian Parliament defeated the Death with Dignity Bill 2016, the union, on its website, was still championing people to back without qualification the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 that had been introduced into the House of Assembly in February this year. This is both extraordinary and troubling. While politicians, from all parties, had walked away from the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 because it was so manifestly flawed, here we have the union urging support for it. Even though dangerous loop-holes and shortcomings had been identified and placed on the public record, the union was parroting the lines being used by Andrew Denton and Go Gentle Australia. While this does not appear to bother the union's leadership, there can be no doubt that many of its members find this situation unbelievable. How can the union leadership be enthusiastically supporting proposed laws that elected representatives have already rejected because of their deficiencies?

Debate in Australia on euthanasia will no doubt continue. Our legislatures are the places where these debates will be undertaken. It will be interesting to see how members of the Nurses and Midwifery Federation react in due course, when they come to realise what is being promoted and supported in their name. I fear, along with many others, that the impeccable reputation of nurses and their standing in the community is going to be greatly damaged by their union's one-sided political campaign on euthanasia. Such an outcome will be tragic.

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About the Author

Greg Donnelly is a Labor Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. He has been in the Legislative Council since February 2005. He is currently the Deputy Opposition Whip in the Legislative Council. He is the Chair of General Purpose Standing Committee No. 2 and Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Social Issues. He is also a member of the Privileges Committee, the Committee on Children and Young People, the Select Committee on the Legislative Council Committee System and the Select Committee on Human Trafficking.

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