Heaven on their minds: Qld Pollies & the Assisted Dying Debate

There are 5.2 million people in Queensland. They are people of different races, different religions (or no religion), different political views, different educational achievements,  professional skills, and different socio-economic status. But, we Queenslanders have one important thing in common: one day, each and every one of us 5.2 million people, is going to die. 

And, of those Queenslanders who are eligible to vote, four out of every five want the right to choose the time and manner of their death should they be afflicted with a terminal illness or neuro-degenerative disease. 

That right will be granted to Queenslanders this week, but not without a fight; a battle against misinformation and propaganda, and against our own political representatives who wilfully chose to ignore the expert evidence presented to them and voted against the clearly expressed views of the majority of their constituents.

I followed the debate in the Queensland parliament closely, and found myself thinking, “Who are these politicians raising ‘concerns’ about voluntary assisted dying that have been repeatedly debunked?”

I’m a professional researcher with modest resources. But, over the last 10 years I’ve investigated almost every claim about “slippery slopes” and “vulnerable groups” and hundreds of “horror stories” about people being euthanised “against their will.” I’ve found 99.99 per cent of them to be completely unfounded and 99.99 per cent of them emanating from religious sources.

Religious lobbyists would be very wrong to suggest that we, similarly, reject their arguments out of hand. We don’t. We look at each and every claim, statistic, and case study. We chase down academic papers, medical and government reports, police and judicial inquiries, and first-hand accounts by the people who have used VAD, their families and their doctors.

We don’t just “google” sites that agree with us. We look at each and every claim and ask, “Could this be true?” And we set out, honestly, and without preconception, to establish the truth.

Why? Because advocates of VAD have absolutely no interest in putting vulnerable people at risk, or allowing doctors to maliciously murder patients against their will, or any of the other horrible scenarios suggested in the reams of propaganda put out by religious astro-turf organisations. If there are issues, we want to know about them and address them. But, in almost every case, what we find are bodgy statistics, half-truths, stories ripped from their context, and straight out, bald-faced lies.

Nobody summarises this better than Emeritus Professor of Law, John Griffiths who said in his book Euthanasia and the Law in Europe:

“Imprecision, exaggeration, suggestion and innuendo, misinterpretation and misrepresentation, ideological ipsedixitism, and downright lying and slander (not to speak of bad manners) have taken the place of careful analysis of the problem and consideration of the Dutch evidence.”

Ipsedixisitism – don’t you love it?

And yet, the vast majority of LNP politicians (and some members of the ALP) this week, repeated this kind of propaganda as if it were true. Did they approach their jobs in good faith?

Surely politicians, who have much better resources than I, have access to the parliamentary library, to expert researchers, and to the many academic, government and judicial inquiries which have determined, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that voluntary assisted dying laws are safe and pose no threat to vulnerable groups.

OK. I accept there are a range of views about voluntary assisted dying. But politicians aren’t elected to vote on ‘views’ – they’re elected to vote on hard evidence from credible sources, and in accordance with the reasonable desires of their constituents.

The safety of VAD laws is not contested – despite what religious propaganda may ask you to believe. There should have been no politicians standing up in parliament this week raising “concerns” about the safety of the carefully drafted Queensland VAD Bill. There aren’t any legitimate concerns.

Really! This kind of legislation has been tried and tested all over the world with none of the apocalyptic results predicted (or recounted) by opponents. We know it works and the laws drafted in Australia are the most restrictive anywhere in the world. 

The only legitimate objection politicians could possibly have had to the Queensland Bill is their belief that life is sacred and that suffering provides an opportunity for death-bed conversion and salvation.

The question is, is it legitimate for a politician to inflict their religious convictions on to constituents who do not share their views?

Imagine if a politician was considering whether a bridge should be built in her electorate and she held a firm view about where it should be located – perhaps somewhere convenient to where she lived. In this case, expert opinions would be sought, engineers reports ordered and town-planners consulted. Of course, there would also be a public consultation process.

Imagine if the expert reports determined that the politician’s preferred location was completely unsuitable – and that 80 per cent of her electorate wanted the bridge located at the site suggested by the experts. It would be politically judicious for the politician to put aside her personal preference (and graciously accept she was wrong).

But, if, instead, she went to parliament and dismissed the expert reports, raised “concerns” written by parties with a vested interest in locating the bridge at her preferred location, and made verifiably false allegations about the safety of the site preferred by experts, she would be in egregious breach of her ethical responsibilities. 

Yet, that is exactly what happened in the Queensland parliament this week. Politicians are entrusted with representing the reasonable views of their electorate. And yet, repeatedly, we saw politicians standing up and blatantly betraying the people they were elected to represent. 

It should be no surprise to anyone that the majority of those who said “No” to Queensland’s voluntary assisted dying bill were from the LNP. But this was no political objection. The vast majority of politicians who opposed the bill have firmly held, conservative, religious views which they privileged above the wants and needs of their constituents. 

As politicians discussed their voting intentions this week, I did some investigation about the reasons behind those “No” votes.

Jarrod Bleijie (LNP – Kawana) said he was voting against the Bill because he worried about children accessing the life-ending medication by accident. This has never happened, ever, anywhere in the world. Mr Bleijie has made no complaints about pharmacies dispensing any number of drugs that might (conceivably) fall into the hands of children, nor of palliative care practitioners bringing potentially lethal medications into the residences of those who choose to die at home. But dig a little and you will find that Mr Bleijie is an elder of the Kawana Waters Uniting Church. He was formerly a director of Mercy Ships – a controversial Christian missionary group that grew out of the evangelical Youth With a Mission. To his credit, Mr Bleijie, is at least honest about where his alliances lie. “I am not bashful about declaring that I am a practising Christian,” he boasted in his maiden speech.

Another ‘honest’ LNP politician was Andrew Powell MP (LNP Glasshouse Mountains) who confessed what his colleagues wouldn’t:

“My vote doesn’t reflect my electorate’s views – Jesus guides the way I operate.”

Jon Krause MP (LNP – Scenic Rim) said he would vote “No” because he thinks the legislation is too “risky”.  It’s clearly not. So what else explains his decision? Mr Krause didn’t disclose his family’s very close association with the Lutheran Church. 

“No” voter, Tim Mander MP (LNP – Everton), who used all the debunked talking points against VAD, is a Christian and bible college graduate and formerly CEO of Scripture Union Queensland. 

Jim McDonald MP (LNP – Lockyer) decided that, although 82 per cent of his constituents want the right to choose VAD, he is happy for them to die slowly, (and not necessarily without pain or suffering), under palliative sedation. This is a method by which doctors provide very strong drugs to patients, knowing they are very likely to kill them eventually, but consoling themselves that this “isn’t their intention.”

Similarly, Pat Weir (LNP – Condamine) betrayed 79 per cent of his electorate when he flagged his intent to vote “No” – and suggested, falsely, that two-thirds of his electorate supported his stance. In fact, credible polling shows that two-thirds of his electorate “strongly agree” that VAD should be legal. Mr Weir is a Catholic.

So, too, is Linus Power (ALP – Logan) who said he was concerned that VAD might be used by people who were suffering intolerably from symptoms other than pain. Pain is the most manageable end-of-life symptom – although not always manageable. End-of-life suffering occurs from a tsunami of physical and psychological symptoms which are no less distressing, whether or not pain is included. And who is Mr Power to determine whether someone’s suffering must be endured because pain may not be the major issue? It seems far more likely that it was Mr Power’s Catholic convictions about the sanctity of life – and suffering – that directed his vote.

Another “No” vote from the ALP came from Joe Kelly (ALP – Greenslopes), a graduate of Ignatius Park (Catholic) College in Townsville. Mr Kelly’s stated concern with the bill was that it puts nurses in danger of criminal conviction. This has never happened – anywhere. I imagine Mr Kelly’s objection came as quite a surprise to the more than 2,000 members of Nurses Supporting Voluntary Assisted Dying, a group run by Queensland nurse, Fiona Jacobs. 

The legislation, of course, was expertly framed by the Queensland Law Reform Commission who would never have recommended legislation with that kind of glaring loophole. But, of course, a politician can’t just state baldly that he’s really uncomfortable voting against the Vatican’s Evangelium Vitae – even if that Papal encyclical means nothing at all to the vast majority of the constituents he represents. 

Then there is Dan Purdie MP (LNP – Ninderry) who, coyly, referred to his school in his maiden speech without actually mentioning its name. Why? Did Mr Purdie envisage that one day he’d be required to choose between his electorate and his religion and that some snoopy researcher might find out he was a Catholic – educated at Padua (Catholic) College? 

Of course, Mr Purdie didn’t ‘fess up that his objection to the Bill was religious. Instead, he simply ticked off all the Catholic propaganda talking points which have been repeatedly debunked and disproven. It’s not just misleading – it’s really lazy to accept information that accords with your preconceptions at face value, while rejecting expert evidence that shows incontrovertibly that your preconceptions are wrong. At least be honest and say, “On this issue, I’m voting with the Pope, not the people.”

I won’t belabour this further by listing every religious LNP vote. It’s not always apparent what religious affiliations politicians have, but I’d happily bet the vast majority of LNP politicians who voted against the bill either did so on religious grounds or because they were muscled by the LNP’s Christian right faction. 

Is the LNP a political party or a theocratic movement? And if their aim is theocracy, why not be open about it?

Queenslanders deserve better. Queensland Catholics and other Christians deserve better! These politicians did not even represent their views. The majority of Australian Catholics and Christians support VAD and you can see that broken down by electorate in Neil Francis’ excellent statical analysis of the 2019 Vote Compass survey here. This survey asked constituents to say to what extent they agreed with the statement:  “Terminally ill patients should be able to end their own lives with medical assistance.” [Scroll down to the third (main) table and click on the name of the electorate for detailed results.]

As Neil reports:

“Those supporting VAD laws include nearly four out of five Catholics (78%) as well as most Anglicans (84%) and other non-Christian faiths (82%). Among voters with no religion, there was almost universal support (95%).”

Please don’t think I’m saying religious politicians have no place in parliament. There is absolutely no reason why people of faith shouldn’t hold political office – providing they accept that decisions should be evidence-based and guided by the reasonable wishes of the majority of their constituents. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was raised Catholic but voted based on the evidence and the overwhelming agreement of the people of Queensland. 

But, I see no difference between a politician who answers to the Vatican or some other church, and a politician with an allegiance to a foreign power, or to some shonky real estate developer. It’s true that (on this issue at least) Queensland politicians weren’t betraying their constituents for a nice little beachfront unit after they retire. But they were selling their constituents out because they fear losing the right to reside on a prime piece of real estate in the hereafter. If that is the basis on which a politician makes decisions, they are not fit for office.

Despite the religious shenanigans this week, Queensland’s VAD bill will pass – almost certainly without any of the vexatious amendments. But, I  hope that when casting their votes at the next election, Queensland voters will consider the LNP’s  (and some ALP members’) shameful betrayal of their constituents. 

Chrys Stevenson

 

12 thoughts on “Heaven on their minds: Qld Pollies & the Assisted Dying Debate

  1. ozgkw

    Thanks Chrys,

    Your analysis of the nay voters was very damning.   I hope their constituents vote them all out at the next election for disrespecting democracy.

    You’ve no doubt heard that the bill was passed 61-30, so democracy won!!  Now to focus on NSW…

    Let me start you off with a comment about my own anti-VAD MP.

    I attended the pre-election Candidate Forum for Wollondilly in 2019 at Mittagong RSL when Nathaniel Smith was the new Liberal candidate, replacing Jay Rowell.  I asked all 7 candidates what their attitude is to VAD, and 6 said they would vote for it, and _only_ Nathaniel (a staunch Catholic and son of an Opus Dei member / former NSW Attorney General Greg Smith) said he wouldn’t vote for it.  I came back and said: “So even though the majority of your constituents are in favour of VAD, you won’t support it?!”  He just flatly replied: “I won’t be voting for it.”

    I sent him the following email on 2 August, but haven’t received as much as an acknowledgement.  I might write to him snail mail as well.  If I get no reply to that, I will take it to the local media.

    Best wishes,

    Geoffrey Williams

    Dear Mr Smith,

    I am writing to notify you of my very strong support for the VAD  bill recently tabled by Alex Greenwich MP (Sydney).

    I understand that you are personally against the concept of VAD and I don’t expect that you will vote for the Bill. Nevertheless, I remind you of the strong support for VAD in your Electorate, indeed in EVERY electorate.  Opinion polls consistently show about 85% majority support for VAD.  At least 70% of Roman Catholics and Anglicans and other major Christian denominations support VAD, even though their official Church hierarchies do not.  Such a majority in political terms would be an avalanche, not just a landslide!

    We live in a Democracy, and for that reason I ask that you _abstain_ from voting against the bill, unless my comments persuade you to vote in favour.  In a true Democracy, Members of Parliament should represent the majority wishes of their electorates, not their own personal opinions.

    This bill will have no ‘losers’ because it is only going to apply to the small minority of people wanting the right to choose a peaceful death for themselves alone. Those who disagree with the concept of VAD will simply not be affected.  The Bill will have strong safeguards to prevent abuse.

    You have every right not to choose VAD for yourself in future, should you ever be in the tragic position of suffering from a terminal illness that is going to cause you great pain.  You also have every right to endure so-called ‘redemptive suffering’ if that is your wish.  However, you do _not_ have the right to impose your personal beliefs on the vast majority of people (including the majority of your fellow Roman Catholics) in your electorate, to deny your Constituents the right to choose VAD for ourselves.

    The incidence of VAD after more than 20 years of successful operation in Oregon is that only about 0.45% (45 in 10,000) of people die as a result of their legislation. 199 out of every 200 deaths in Oregon do NOT involve VAD, so it is clear that the anticipated ‘slippery slope’ never eventuated.

    Furthermore, and I want you to particularly consider this fact; some people who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness actually lived LONGER than they might otherwise have lived if VAD was not an option.  The knowledge that they weren’t going to suffer incredible pain as their terminal illness took its toll had an extremely powerful, palliative effect.  Dying patients have enough to worry about, without having the dread of an agonising death looming over them.  By voting against this bill, you will be condemning a small number of people to continue having to face an agonising death – unnecessary, pointless pain which they could otherwise avoid. Most people die without agonising suffering, thanks to the excellent Palliative Care available in NSW.  Unfortunately, even the best Palliative Care cannot prevent all suffering.  Why should a very small number of people have to endure great suffering when a peaceful alternative can be made available if they choose to access VAD?!

    I urge you to please take a compassionate approach to this issue, not a dogmatic one.

    Yours sincerely and faithfully,

    Geoffrey Williams

    Reply
  2. Mark Grieveson

    Thank you for an informed & well argued article. I appreciate the background you provided on some of the naysayers which helped me understand their (to me) ethically unconscionable views

    Reply
  3. Alan Corbett

    Thanks for the analysis. Now we wait to see if those LNP members who did vote in favour, are victimised for doing so.

    Reply
  4. Bryan Milner

    Thanks Chrys. A typical well researched essay highlighting the fraudulence of the mostly Catholic members of the LNP. How is it that these people manage to infect that party so thoroughly? Is it a strategy of the Catholic Church?

    My local member, Fiona Simpson (not a Catholic), when I tackled her face to face, responded “I have a faith”, as if that was sufficient answer. Forget the 80+% in favour that she “represents”.

    To hear LNP members stand up one after the other and lecture us on all the perceived “concerns” is just pathetic. It is their “faith” speaking.

    The most egregious lie is that palliative care can relieve suffering from all conditions. It obviously can’t. I would like to know what the percentage of unrelievable cases is. It is obviously significant.

    Well done Chrys and all the parties who have worked so hard for so long to achieve this great result. I became part of the VE movement 20 years ago, but never dreamed that we would see legislation in my lifetime.

    Reply
  5. Chrissie Ray

    Thank you dear Chrys. I love your articles which are so truthful. I am one of the people who are so glad that the law has passed and that suffering people who are dying or feel they need to die can do this legally.As you know, 2 of my children killed themselves after suffering intensely. I remember on an occasion when I went to Sundale in Nambour to visit my in laws . This woman was wailing loudly, I want to Die! Let me die! and no one stopped to talk to her.I felt so helpless.
    She should have had help to be euthanised.
    Anyway, good on you mate.
    love from Chrissie Ray

    Reply
    1. thatsmyphilosophy Post author

      So lovely to hear from you, Chrissie ! The woman in the nursing home should certainly have got some help for whatever problems she had, and I can understand her despair. But she sounds like she may have been beyond the stage where she could give informed consent.

      I’m a very strong advocate for VAD but I don’t think we should be advocating for a permanent solution to a temporary problem or providing VAD to those who don’t have the mental capacity to give informed consent. xx

      Reply
  6. Katrine

    You are right – the evidence on consequences of legalising VAD is strongly one-sided. But we supposedly live in a pluralist society. Only some of us are utilitarians and believe that moral issues should be resolved exclusively by reference to consequences. Others of us may hold deontological beliefs about right and wrong. In this case, evidence about consequences is less relevant than moral views about the intrinsic nature of the act itself. One of the problems we have in the debate is that our contemporary society allows the expression of a variety of viewpoints, but effectively silences religious views. It is not socially acceptable to express a belief like “I believe life is a gift from God and it’s wrong for people to take a life” That’s possibly why the LNP members focussed on flawed arguments about possible consequences of legalising VAD.

    We need to create a safe space where genuine disagreements about moral issues can be resolved. The majority is not always right. One of the problems we have in the debate is that our contemporary society allows the expression of a variety of viewpoints, but effectively silences religious views. It is not socially acceptable to express a belief like “I believe life is a gift from God and it’s wrong for people to take a life” That’s possibly why the LNP members felt the need to conceal their religious affiliation and focussed on flawed arguments about possible consequences of legalising VAD.

    Reply
    1. thatsmyphilosophy Post author

      LNP members are free to express that view and would be more honest if they did so. Many actively conceal their religious affiliations and dishonestly deny that their objections come from their religious beliefs .

      Advocates for VAD absolutely accept that some (albeit the minority) of people of faith would not choose VAD because of their religious beliefs. We also accept that some religious doctors and private health and aged care institutions should have the right of conscientious objection – providing this does not place an undue burden on the right of the patient to choose VAD.

      Nobody is forcing VAD on to people of faith. It is entirely optional.

      On the other hand, people of faith, often concealing their religious affiliation, attempt to impose their concept of morality on to those who do not share their views.

      When no-one is affected except the individual making the decision, their family and doctors who have signed on to assist, why should a minority group of Christians be able to impose their will in this matter?

      What is astounding is that that many in the same clique of Christians who shout so loudly against the immorality of VAD happily support capital punishment because it is endorsed in the Bible, vilify LGBTIQ people – often to the point of driving them to suicide, support restrictive migration policies in order to preserve Australia as a “Christian nation” and would have us go back to the days when women had to seek illegal (and often fatal) abortions.

      So, excuse me if I am not all for embracing this brand of selectively “pro-life” Christian morality as a universal panacea for the world.

      If Christians were better role models, practiced humility, and actually emulated the spirit of the person they claim to worship, then Christianity may not be as socially unacceptable as it is now. Please remember that the vast majority of Christians support VAD as a compassionate choice.

      As the late John Shelby Spong said, it is fundamentalism that is killing the Christian Church, not those of us who stand outside of it and gasp in horror at its hubris and hypocrisy.

      Reply
      1. Katrine

        I guess that’s why some people feel compelled to conceal their faith. All I asked for was a safe place for open debate, not to be vilified or accused of hubris, hypocrisy and all the unrelated evils done by some Christians.

      2. thatsmyphilosophy Post author

        Perhaps if you respected other people’s rights to self-determination you would find them more open to listening to your perspective.

        Your argument requires that I bow to the demands of a God I neither worship nor believe in. That’s not a productive place to start discussion.

        If you are going to identify as a Christian, you need to accept that your faith is being torn asunder by political activists who don’t practice what they preach. Perhaps you should spend your time putting your own house in order.

        And is it really justifiable to lie and conceal your religious beliefs for political purposes? Poor old Peter has been vilified for millenia for doing that even though he was in fear of his life. Yet, Joe Bloggs MP can be excused because it might lose him a few percentage points in a marginal seat? Right.

  7. Marjorie Lawrence

    Thank you for your thorough research into the beliefs of politicians, Chrissy. As a long ago former Church of England and for the last 40 years, an atheist, it never ceases to amaze me how unsubstantiated beliefs can govern peoples lives. Don’t they ever look or read about evolution, or scientific literature on how the universe was formed? God help us if we finish up being governed by these beliefs.

    Reply

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