In June last year the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament released its report in the matter of the 'Inquiry into End of Life Choices'.
Recommendation 49 of that report called upon the Victorian Parliament to legislate assisted suicide for people, "suffering from a serious and incurable condition which is causing enduring and unbearable suffering" and that these persons must be "at the end of life (final weeks or months of life)".
The recommendation was never going to please everyone who is arguing in support of legislative change. Victorian Coroner John Olle likely stands amongst them. He had earlier presented to the committee regarding 240 suicides over a five year period for people who had 'irreversibly diminished physical health' of whom he said:
… the people we are talking about in this small cohort have made an absolute clear decision. They are determined. The only assistance that could be offered is to meet their wishes, not to prolong their life."
How he knows that for certain is unclear.
Yet less than half of that number would have likely qualified for assisted suicide under the final recommendation according to the case descriptions later submitted to the committee by the Coroner's office. What of the rest? What of Olle's impassioned plea that these people deserved assisted suicide rather than suicide? Are they to be left out? Perhaps, but not if Dr Rodney Syme gets his way.
Syme wrote last year to the Victorian Health Minister on behalf of the Victorian pro-euthanasia lobby calling for an extension to the the committee's recommendation to include people who have an 'advanced incurable illness'; in otherwords, not simply those who are clearly close to dying. Yet even this extension may only have drawn into the orbit of assisted suicide a few more of Olle's cohort.
Syme's logic is internally consistent and compelling if, in fact, the aim of such legislation is to relieve suffering. It is not only those who are close to death who suffer. This is the same sort of argument put to the Belgian people regarding child euthanasia in 2013 and is the same argument circling in Holland at the moment in regards to proposals for child euthanasia and euthanasia for people who are 'tired if life'. A few years ago in a debate in Brussels I heard one of the academics behind their euthanasia legislation make it perfectly clear that he wants to eliminate all suffering. Think about what that may mean. It sounded to me more like a pogrom than a humanitarian endeavour. Scary stuff.
Syme put the same case to the Victorian public again recently on the pages of The Age on Sunday. He and the pro-euthanasia lobby have hitched their wagon to Coroner Olle's highly emotive presentation last year. Syme uses Olle's work in a similar way as Premier Andrew's did in announcing government support for the committee recommendation in December last year.
The evidence of the Victorian coroner, upon which the inquiry placed great weight, reveals that at least half of the three to four Victorians a week who because of a serious medical condition commit violent suicide do not have only weeks or months to live. They had what I describe as an "advanced incurable illness" – note the similarity to "a serious and incurable illness" cited by the inquiry.
Syme laid out his case:
It is not difficult to comprehend that people with chronic heart or respiratory failure, perhaps reliant on continuous oxygen, suffering from fatigue, diminished mobility, pain, and, most importantly, severe breathlessness, have a serious and incurable illness, but their trajectory to death is unpredictable.
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