Meet the Small Parties: Voluntary Euthanasia Party

The Voluntary Euthanasia Party is a relatively recent party on the political scene – I first spotted it in the Western Australian Senate Election earlier this year, and this is their first time running in Victoria.

The VEP’s slogan is “Dignity and Choice for All Australians”, and on their webpage they tell us:

The Voluntary Euthanasia Party was created to provide the choice and dignity that current legislation is denying terminally and incurably ill Australians. The party hopes to provide a clear political outlet for the overwhelming public support for voluntary euthanasia. Over four in five Australians are in favour of new legislation and we wish to allow that sentiment to be clearly demonstrated at the ballot box. The Voluntary Euthanasia Party aims to ensure dignity in the final years of life, by raising the profile of this issue in order to engender the necessary political will for change.

Their website is pretty minimalist.  There is a form to fill in to join the party, the aforementioned preamble, and below, their party policy.  And there really is only one party policy, which is this:

We support the provision of medical procedures for the painless, assisted death of patients of a terminal or incurable illness, who are enduring unbearable suffering and who have expressed a desire for the procedures within appropriate legal safeguards. We believe that these patients deserve the right to make informed choices about the time and manner of their death through appropriate and humane medical assistance.

Apparently, more than 82% of Australians are in favour of allowing voluntary euthanasia, and the VEP basically exists to show the government that, in fact, there really are enough people who will vote on this issue that perhaps they ought to consider legislating about it.

Before we go into this further, let’s have a quick peek at the VEP’s Group Voting Ticket.

The VEP is running candidates in six regions – everywhere except the Western Metropolitan and the Northern and Western Victorian regions.  Since they tend to frame euthanasia as a personal liberty issue, it isn’t surprising to learn that they preference the LDP  and the Sex Party, as well as Luzio Grossi (but not his co-Independent, Crystal James) in Southern Metropolitan.  Also high on their preferences are the Greens, and the Shooters and Fishers.  Other parties come and go rather randomly.

At the bottom of the ticket, unsurprisingly, we find the Christian Right, particularly Rise up Australia and the Australian Christians.  The Country Party, Family First and the Liberal Party also tend to be low on the ticket.

The Greens are preferenced ahead of Labor and Liberal in all electorates, and Labor is ahead of Liberal everywhere except in the Eastern Metropolitan Region.  Bizarrely, Family First manages to get ahead of Labor in Eastern Metropolitan, Eastern Victoria and Southern Metropolitan. Ideologically, this is a weird choice.

In all honesty, I have mixed feelings about this party.  I don’t have strong feelings about whether we should or should not allow euthanasia in Australia – I am inclined to think we should, but it’s honestly not something that is going to swing my vote in one direction or the other.  However, I do believe, quite strongly, that if we did bring legalise assisted suicide, we would have to be very careful in how we regulated it.

And the trouble I have here is that the Registered Officer for the VEP appears to be Philip Nitschke, founder of EXIT International – and he has not been very diligent in this respect.  There were reports in 2010 of a number of people using information on his website and his ‘peaceful pills’ to commit suicide not because they were terminally ill, but because they suffered from depression.

Now, I am not for one moment claiming that depression is not a serious disease – but it’s not a terminal one.  And we are getting better at treating it.

Another disclaimer – I used to volunteer on a suicide helpline, so yes, I feel fairly strongly about suicide prevention.  And I really don’t think we should be cavalier about putting suicide drugs into the hands of people with mental illness.  But here’s a report from The Age on Nitschke’s response.

While statistics published in The Age today reveal people in their 20s, 30s and 40s have died from overdosing on the drug, Nitschke says his organisation has made every attempt to filter who they provide this information to. That is, with the exception of the internet. There is a disclaimer on the site, but Nitschke accepts that anyone, including depressed teenagers, could be accessing the information. He says this is the risk Exit has taken to help vast numbers of elderly and seriously ill people.

”There will be some casualties when you put this information out there, and these are casualties which are tragic … but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense wellbeing from having access to this information,” he says.

I find this incredibly irresponsible.  Evidently, Dr Nitschke feels that the ends justify the risk, but I cannot agree with him.  The more so since recently he did, in fact, assist a man with depression to commit suicide, saying”it was not his job to [recommend that Mr Brayley seek psychiatric help], and that Mr Brayley was of sound mind when he made the decision to die.”If a person comes along and says to me that they’ve made a rational decision to end their life in two weeks, I don’t go along and say ‘Oh have you made a rational decision? Do you think you better think about it? Why don’t you go off and have a counsellor come along and talk to you?” he said. We don’t do that.”

Thus framing the issue as one of personal liberty.

Look, as I said, I don’t know about euthanasia.  But I don’t think that Philip Nitschke is a credit to the movement.  I think he is far too cavalier about the lives he is helping to end, and he gives the impression of being motivated more by ideology than by compassion at this point (I don’t believe this was always the case).

Euthanasia can, perhaps, be a merciful and kind end.  If the statistics are anything to go by, it’s past time Australia had a sensible conversation on this subject.  I’m just not convinced that Nitschke belongs in such a conversation.

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