Dr. David Amies: South Australia assisted dying bill fails by one vote

While 75 per cent of South Australians support assisted dying laws, the state's MPs voted the proposed bill down last week. In his latest blog post, Dr. David Amies writes about this disappointing result and the politicians who place piety over patients.

There is considerable disappointment in South Australia after that state’s parliament rejected an assisted dying bill by one vote. The count was 24 against and 23 in favour.

Similar legislation was enacted in the Northern Territory in 1996 when Marshall Peron, the chief minister of the territory, piloted a bill through its assembly. Peron was inspired to advocate for the measure after he watched his mother die a distressing death from widespread cancer. Dr. Philip Nitschke, an internationally renowned thinker and practitioner in the field of physician-assisted dying, used the law to enable four people to escape from intolerable medical situations. The federal government of Australia, prompted by Kevin Andrews, a renowned Roman Catholic tub-thumper, overturned the legislation in 1997.

The South Australian Premier Jay Weatherall said that he felt "gutted" by the decision in the South Australian house. He claimed that there had been a high level of public support for the measure. Leslie Vick, of Dying With Dignity Victoria, the neighbouring state, expressed great disappointment over the outcome and affirmed that the great majority of South Australians supported the measure. She said that there were similar levels of public support in Victoria and that a bill enabling voluntary euthanasia there was likely in the near future.

The South Australian house was placed under a good deal of religious pressure from such members as MP Tom Kenyon. He is on record as saying, "Every time that Jesus Christ encountered someone, who were sick, he healed them. He even brought people back from the dead. That's what we believe. As Christians we cannot support euthanasia." Kenyon's naiveté would be touching in a young child, but is truly frightening in someone who has power. He evidently regards his religious beliefs as applicable to all regardless of whether they are members of any faith or none. Sadly, such attitudes remain strong among those who rely upon dusty old texts to guide them through life rather than the power of reason which should be present in us all.

Dr. David Amies is a retired doctor in Lethbridge, Alta., and a member of DWD Canada's Physicians Advisory Council.

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