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Peaceful Pill Blog

August 30, 2021

Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

The below is the submission of Exit International to the Australian Senate inquiry into the current ban on the Northern Territory making laws on assisted suicide/ voluntary euthanasia, 30 August 2021.

Committee Secretary
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

29 August 2021

Dear Colleagues

Please accept the below as my submission to your Committee in regard to why the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 should remove Section 50A in its entirety.

As I understand it, the purpose of the ‘Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021’ is to ‘reduce the level of Commonwealth interference with laws of the Northern Territory related to acquisition of property on just terms, voluntary assisted dying and powers in relation to the hearing and determining of employment disputes’.

Of the three subjects covered by this bill, my submission concerns Item 2 only: namely the removal of Section 50A of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978.

Item 2

Repeals Section 50A as inserted by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which prevented the Northern Territory from enacting assisted dying legislation.

The repeal of the whole of section 50A includes subsection 50A(2) which clarifies the scope of the limitation on the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly’s power to make laws relating to euthanasia by confirming the power to make laws in relation to the specific areas set out in that subsection. For the avoidance of doubt, it is noted that the repeal of that subsection does not affect the power of the Legislative Assembly to make laws in relation to those specific areas.

To understand why Section 50A of this Act should be removed, requires a rudimentary understanding of how it came to be in the first place.  The below is based on my first-hand involvement during this tumultuous time in Australian and Northern Territory politics.

The Backstory

On 1 July 1996 the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI) became law. Yet the ink on the Act was never allowed to dry because even before it was enacted, Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews was talking to Prime Minister John Howard about the possibility of introducing a private member’s bill in Federal Parliament to overturn the ROTI Act.

In the months after 1 July, opposition to the Act began emerging from far and wide, but especially from the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile in Darwin, opposition came primarily from within the Territory government’s CLP ranks. After Marshall Perron resigned, handing power to Shane Stone, it was obvious the road was going to be rough.

A practicing catholic, Shane Stone was openly hostile to voluntary euthanasia. However, it was Stone who was now in charge with the ROTI Act’s full implementation.

A close confidant of John Howard, Stone was canny enough to realise that he needed to be seen to support the bill’s implementation. And he was also clever enough to know that he had a range of options by which he could help bring the Act down.

One of these was to allow the Territory’s Department of Health to join forces with AMA then president (who was hostile to the issue), Chris Wake who in turn was supported by such local power brokers as the then Catholic Bishop of Darwin, Ted Collins.

To this end, a letter detailing an obscure legal risk was mailed to all doctors in the Territory. In the letter it was suggested that doctors could face retrospective prosecution if the bill was ever deemed unconstitutional.

Even though the ROTI law was never found to be unconstitutional, the damage done. It would take another three months before enough doctors to broke ranks and the law was able to be used as intended.

Another strategy to bring down the law was the ‘Kevin Andrews Bill’, which became formally known as the Euthanasia Laws Act.

The Kevin Andrews Bill

On 25 March 1997 the ‘Kevin Andrews Bill’, formally known as the ‘Euthanasia Laws Bill’, passed – via a conscience vote – its final stages in the Senate of Australia’s Federal Parliament.

A letter appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald the following day summed things up from a democracy perspective.

I have heard that early this morning, in the Senate, the lights went out.[1]

Two days later, then Governor-General Sir William Dean ratified the bill and the Northern Territory ROTI Act ceased to exist. I was simply devastated.

The way I felt is perhaps best encapsulated in a photo taken by a Fairfax press photographer that shows me standing on the steps of Parliament House, surrounded by the journalists of the press gallery, with burning copies of the ROTI Act and the Northern Territory’s Constitution at my feet.

Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

The burning of the NT Constitution & Rights of the Terminally Ill Act

in the early hours of 24 March 1997

The burning was to me a symbolic act, as I felt the wishes of most Territorians lay in ashes at the feet of our federal politicians.

How could this Destruction of Democracy happen?

The fact that the Federal Parliament was able to override NT legislation through use of Section 122 of the Australian Constitution is only half the story. The other half concerns a wide-reaching network of people, many from within the Lyons Forum and catholic Church-based propagandists.

This network included the former Young Labor president Tony Burke – and now manager of opposition business –and Sydney businessman Jim Dominguez, the ‘Euthanasia No’ campaign was well-funded and effective.[2]

In the words of the late journalist Michael Gordon, the No campaign was a ‘story of a network [where] all the principals are Catholics – its influential connections, its single-mindedness and the tactics it employed’.[3]

The Role of the Media

A second group that ensured the success of the Kevin Andrews – Euthanasia Laws Act was the media, most particularly the Murdoch-owned, Australian newspaper. As a prominent member of the ‘Euthanasia No’ campaign, then editor-in-chief, Paul Kelly, used his position at the paper to promote ‘Euthanasia No’. He was, and is, personally opposed to any kind of voluntary euthanasia legislation.

Kelly’s complicity in the No campaign was revealed to me by The Australian’s then Darwin correspondent, Maria Ceresa. While her Fairfax counterpart, journalist Gay Alcorn, filed stories without editorial interference, Ceresa said she was routinely thwarted by the paper’s hierarchy in her coverage of the issues surrounding the ROTI law.

Ceresa would later tell me that unless the story was highly critical of the legislation, the paper would not run it. She felt herself professionally compromised as a result.

The Australian Right-to-die Movement

The right-to-die movement, too, found itself unwittingly helping to undermine the legislation. I knew something was not right as I travelled from state to state during 1996, trying to involve the VE societies, and trying to get them to mount a coordinated campaign to save the ROTI Act. Their response was patchy.

Although representatives from Queensland, South Australia and the ACT did gather for a strategy meeting in Canberra, there was little willingness to pool resources and mount a national campaign.

In particular from the Victorian society, who did not even attend the meeting. They said they were unwilling to put money into a project that would not directly benefit Victoria. Later I met with the president, Dr Rodney Syme, and the then executive officer, Kay Koetsier, whereupon they expanded on this view.

Syme explained that while the society was prepared to pay for survey work that could benefit Victoria, there would be no involvement in a national campaign to lobby federal politicians. Koetsier went so far as to claim that the passage of the Andrews Bill could even bode well for Victoria.

When I asked Koetsier to elaborate on this point of view, she said that if the Senate voted in favour of the Andrews Bill, there would be a national outcry. Then, the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, would take it upon himself to ‘do the right thing’ for the people of that State, and pass right-to-die legislation. History now tells us that it took another 20 years for the Victoria Parliament to ‘do the right thing’.

In retrospect, it was little wonder the ‘Euthanasia Yes’ campaign was defeated. However, this only goes to build the argument of how much the current status quo is the result of high politics than representative democracy.

The Vote – who said what & why?

When the Euthanasia Laws Bill was debated in the Senate, the debate lasted the best part of four days. The speeches heard in both houses of parliament were some of the most emotional ever made.

While some MPs spoke about the rights of the individual, others echoed the Catholic Church. A few talked critically of State/Territory versus Commonwealth powers.

The speech of Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese is of note for its eloquence and passion:

‘This debate is hard – real hard,’ Albanese said. ‘It is hard because it is about death.’

He went on:

Most people are uncomfortable talking about dying … [Yet] this debate, as hard as it may be, is important. The outcome of this debate will reflect on our maturity both as a parliament and as a nation for it will determine the manner in which we seek to control each other’s lives.

I oppose this [Andrews] bill because I support human dignity. I oppose this bill because I support freedom of choice. I oppose this bill because I support civil liberties. I oppose this bill because my Christian upbringing taught me that compassion is important. I oppose this bill because modern medical practice should be open and accountable, not covert and dishonest…

I oppose this bill because I oppose the moral posturing of the Lyons Forum. I oppose the hypocrisy of those who say, ‘This debate is so important’ and then vote to debate it upstairs in sideshow alley.

Most importantly, I oppose this bill for one critical reason, and that is this. We have all accepted that this parliamentary debate should be a matter for our conscience.

How arrogant to then suggest that the ability to exercise conscience should be taken from a seriously ill patient who wants to die. There is nothing moral about our exercising a free conscience vote as members of parliament and then voting to deny to others the right to exercise their conscience.

What possible right do Kevin Andrews, Leo McLeay, Lindsay Tanner or Anthony Albanese have to have exercised Bob Dent’s conscience for him? It was his decision and he had a right to do that.[4]

The Territory Rights Argument

Of those who focused on territory rights, it was the Territory’s own Senator Bob Collins who led the way. Although a hostile opponent of the ROTI law, Collins was angry at the vilification of both the Territory and its politicians by Federal Parliamentarians. He was especially critical of Kevin Andrews and Senator Eric Abetz from Tasmania.

He was angry at Andrews for his audacity to think that ‘Territorians have no rights, only obligations’.

Collins was also scathing of Abetz when the latter had tried to argue that ‘the Northern Territory parliament exists only by the grace and favour of the Commonwealth parliament. What the Commonwealth parliament gives, it can also take away’.

‘This’, said Collins, ‘from a senator from a state with about twice the population of the Northern Territory’s, and five times its representation in the House of Representatives and six times its representation here in the Senate’.

Other politicians focused more on their own moment in history. Citing Edmund Burke, Barry Jones stated that he as ‘your representative’, ‘owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion’.[5]

Barry Jones’s mistake was to believe that it was appropriate for politicians to dismiss the ‘opinion’ of their electorates in favour of their own prejudices. Politicians like Barry Jones thought they could do our thinking for us.

Letters to the Editor

The irony of these political machinations is that then, as now, the majority of the Australian population supported a terminally ill person’s right to seek medical help to have a peaceful death.  The overturning of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was a deeply unpopular act of democratic bastardry.

Letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald reflected the popular sentiment. It was Greens leader, Bob Brown, who had the foresight to incorporate the many letters into Hansard. But he had opposition even in this small but significant step.

Senate Hansard, Parliament House Australia – 26 March 1997

Senator BROWN (Tasmania) (Midnight) – The letters columns in today’s newspaper started to reflect the feeling of the Australian people about the failure of this parliament to uphold the voluntary euthanasia laws. I do not wish to hold the chamber for long at this point but I have circulated –

Senator Chris Ellison – Why not; you’ve done it all week. You’re a disgrace.

Senator BROWN – The honourable senator … I want to incorporate into Hansard the page of letters in today’s Sydney Morning Herald published under the heading ‘Senate’s night of shame’. I seek leave, having circulated this page, to have it so incorporated.

Leave granted …

Senator Bob BROWN – The letters speak for themselves. They are a consistent barrage of vitriol, disappointment and disgust with the fact that the rights of individuals in this country have been overridden by a majority of people in this parliament not reflecting what the people themselves think…

Senator Kay Patterson – I find that offensive; you are appalling.

Senator Bob BROWN – You may find that offensive, but I find what you did offensive in the extreme. The difference between you, Senator Patterson, and me – through you, Madam President – is that I have not voted to override the right of individuals. If you want to get up to defend your position, you do so, but I stand here on the point I take and I stand defiant of your point of view.

A Sample of Sydney Morning Herald Letters to the Editor

I don’t understand why these evangelists of their own belief systems have the right to take away another individual’s right to end his or her own suffering.

This is the worst kind of politicking, far worse than acting out at Question Time, making errors with expenses or jetting around on fact-finding missions. I don’t care what ‘God’ a politician chooses to follow, but when his belief affects others I consider he has overstepped his already poor standing in the community.

My heart goes out to those who are suffering and those wanting to help them within the law – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[6]

~~

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I don’t have to worry about what’s best for me. A very few altruistic-minded wise persons in Canberra tell me what’s best. I feel good. I don’t need God. I have them – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[7]

~~

To all the senators who voted in favour of the Andrews euthanasia bill: you disgust me. You have shown that in Australia, as in the United States, the ‘moral majority’ is on the rise.

You seek to impose your religious and moral beliefs upon the wider community. You missed the point. You can’t stop me gassing myself, or driving my car off a cliff. It’s my life and I will control it, thanks very much.

All you have done is to remove a humane and merciful option. In doing so, you have run rough-shod over public opinion and the rights of the individual. Thanks to your vote, euthanasia will continue to be practised in secrecy every day in every major hospital in Australia.

~~

When society matures further, a euthanasia law will be passed. As with most issues, I doubt that Australia will be in the vanguard of change – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[8]

~~

May I wish Mr Kevin Andrews a long and excruciatingly painful life – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997.[9]

~~

Australia has just thrown away an opportunity to show the world that we have a compassionate and caring society which allows our terminally ill people the right to choose how and when they will die. To deny this right to anyone in pain and without hope is the ultimate act of obscenity.

The point that these meddling minders have apparently missed is that palliative care does not work for many patients and even when pain can be alleviated there is another equally important aspect to their suffering to consider – dignity.

I ask this: have any of you who so vehemently oppose voluntary euthanasia ever watched someone you love die in mental and physical agony, inch by inch? Well, I have, and it is a predicament that even the most blasé of us never forget. Certainly, if it happened to the family dog, it would not be tolerated. – Letter to the Editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997[10]

Conclusion

The Euthanasia Laws Act came about as a result of a complex, underhand and underground network of anti-choice activists and politicians who succeeded in ramming through one of the most undemocratic and unfair legislative amendments in Australian political history.

The one common thread binding most, but not all of the political players, was their Christian faith. Ironically, the Northern Territory of Australia was and remains the least religious jurisdiction in Australia.

The removal of s50A from the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 is long overdue. Its removal is even more urgent when one understands the deeply undemocratic way the section came to be contained within the Act in the first place.

This betrayal of democracy is a stain on our country. It should never have happened. This is not how the rule of law looks, not even in Australia.

Restoring the ability of the democratically-elected representatives of the Northern Territory to pass laws on all manner of subjects will restore democracy to Northern Territorians.

The argument ‘for’ the removal of s50A should be a no brainer.

Philip Nitschke, PhD, MBBS

Exit International

PO Box 37781

Winnellie NT 0821

Postbus 283

2000 AG Haarlem, NL

Phone: 0407 189 339

+ 31 6309 66992 (NL)

contact@exitinternational.net

Footnotes

[1] Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1997 (Senate Hansard, March 26 1997).

[2] As early as May 1995 at the invitation of The Australian’s national affairs editor, Mike Steketee, Jim Dominguez would appear in the paper under the guise of opinion writer and in the letters to the editor. All the while his biography would fail to acknowledge his early commitment to the Euthanasia No campaign. Instead, he appeared variously as ‘Jim the Banker’, and ‘Jim from Hunters Hill’.
[3] Michael Gordon, 1997. A full analysis of the Euthanasia No campaign can be found in Gordon’s 1997 article in the Weekend Australian entitled ‘Holy Alliance: The Inside Story of Euthanasia’s Demise’, 29 March 1997.

[4] Australia, House of Representatives, 1996, Speech, Second Reading Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, p. 5920.
[5] Australia, House of Representatives, 1996, Speech, Second Reading Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, p. 7325.
[6] Sydney Morning Herald 25 March 1997, (Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997).
[7] Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997.
[8] Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997.
[9] Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 25 1997, (Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997).
[10] Senate Hansard, 26 March 1997.

A fuller account of this period of Australian history is contained in the book by Philip Nitshcke & Fiona Stewart, Killing Me Softly: VE and the Road to the Peaceful Pill (Penguin, 2005).

The Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021 is long overdue!

Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021

August 1, 2021

The Azide Wars

The Backstory

The first shots in The Azide Wars were fired in March 2019 when the Dutch Medical Association Journal NTvG published several articles attacking what was described in the editorial as ‘the ideology of suicide”’

In a lead article ‘The Rise and Fall of Agent X’, journalist (and co-author with Boudewijm Chabot of Uitweg), Stella Braam, argued that those seeking access to their own end of life drugs were ‘enthusiastic amateurs, blinded by their enthusiasm and pressured by their supporters’.

A further article in the same edition, ‘Autointoxication with suicide powder’ stated, with limited evidence that the suggested suicide drugs were ‘extremely unsuitable’ because of the alleged ‘unbearable symptoms’ they would initiate.

It was clear from these published articles, and the hostile editorial of NTvG that anyone advocating the right to have control over one’s death was in for a fight to the death (excuse the pun) with the Dutch medical establishment.

The azide wars

The CLW Breakthrough?

In September 2017, Dutch right to die group Cooperative Last Will, or CLW, announced in the national Dutch media that they had discovered a substance that was legal, easy to obtain and when taken as a drink or tablet would cause a reliable and peaceful death. This claim immediately attracted attention around the world.

Described by CLW as the perfect ‘Drion Pill’, Middel X was something that would place the option of a reliable, elective death back in the hands of the individual.

Most importantly, Middel X would offer those who wanted to bypass the restrictions and bureaucracy of Dutch euthanasia law a legitimate and legal way out.

No longer would a person have to argue their case to a doctor. No longer would a doctor get to say that, in their opinion, they were not suffering enough, Middel X would de-medicalise one’s decision to die along with the act itself.

At the time, CLW refused to name the substance they were referring to. They argued that to do so would be irresponsible to do so.

The Azide Wars

However, in not naming Middel X as azide, speculation and intrigue only increased.

Of course, retired scientists within the community of Exit soon outed the mysterious Middel X as either sodium azide and sodium nitrite. Both were simple, legal, available inorganic salts which made both of them possible contenders.

Indeed, the use sodium nitrite as a means of providing a humane death to feral pig populations in Australia was front of mind for Exit who, in 2017, was already examining this substance as a possible ‘Peaceful Pill’ (Exit term for the Dutch ‘Drion Pill’ or ‘Last Will Pill’).

Interestingly, Huib Drion was one of the first Dutchman I ever met. He was a retired president of the Dutch Supreme Court. On my first visit to the Netherlands in 1998, he invited me to coffee at his home in The Hague. This was a two short years after the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act had been overturned by Federal Australian Parliament;

As history tells it, that law allowed me to provide lethal legal injections to four terminally ill patients. It was those deaths and other attempted assisted deaths in relation to that law that made it clear to me from that restrictive medical legislation was not the answer to the question of a peaceful, elected death at a time of one’s choosing.

I was aware of  Judge Drion, after reading a provocative opinion piece by him in a Dutch national broadsheet where he had argued that all elderly people should have access to a lethal pill. Drion believed that access to such a pill was a fundamental human right and that it was independent of one’s state of heath.

The Azide Wars

The concept of a pill made good sense to me and when I met the 80-year former judge and he explained his concept in detail, I knew I had met a kindred soul.

On that afternoon we discussed possible contenders. For me it was always going to be the barbiturate Nembutal. However, as Judge Drion pointed out, tight legal restriction made this unlikely. There must be another substance he argued: one that was not already under such tight state control.

Fast Forward to Azide

The September 2017 update to The Peaceful Pill Handbook included details of both the azide and nitrite salts.

While it was clear that both salts could end life, there was little to no detail about the reliability or, importantly, the peacefulness of the process of each. There were few available first-hand accounts.

After careful analysis, Exit concluded that nitrite was probably a slightly better end of life option than azide.

Be that as it may, in 2018 CLW announced that they would soon be distributing Middel X to their members.

Internet chatter about the exact nature of the ‘suicide powder’ (as the media labelled it) again intensified.

When, in early 2018, Dutch teenager Ximena Knoll, 19, ended her life after researching the issue on the Internet, it was reported in the media that she had obtained Middel X.

Understandably, Ximena’s parents were distressed. They argued that the Dutch government should move to restrict the activities of CLW. They blamed CLW for their daughter’s suicide.

The Azide Wars

The Dutch government did act, regulating whom could purchase inorganic salts such as nitrite and azide. Dutch chemical distributors responded by restricting their sales to individuals.

CLW with then threatened with prosecution if they dared to continue with their distribution strategy.  Undeterred, the membership of the CLW continued to grow steeply.

The War

The Dutch Medical Association – via their Journal – continued to attack the  ‘suicide powders’, claiming they were ineffective and unpredictable often resulting in failure.

However, there was scant evidence to back up this claim.

Indeed, the suggestion that nitrite was an ‘extremely unsuitable suicide agent’ was based on two incomplete case studies.

Neither study provided any detail on symptoms experienced. This shortage of detail only made claims and further counter claims possible.

Meanwhile, CLW admitted that Middel X was indeed sodium azide, producing a report from toxicologist Dr GHM Counotte where it was argued that it was a reliable end of life method and that the few adverse symptoms that were experienced before loss of consciousness were ‘readily treatable’.

Others disagreed and the Azide Wars took hold.

Dutch psychiatrist and author of the book Uitweg, Boudewijn Chabot, wanted it known that sodium azide is a poor and dangerous substitute to the reliable and supervised barbiturate, Nembutal, as administered under Dutch euthanasia law.

The Azide Wars

Chabot’s problem was that he did not have enough sufficient eye-witness accounts of azide deaths to make his criticisms stick.

The Azide Wars now divide the global right to die movement.

While some thought that the unsupervised distribution (and use) of readily available suicide agents would delay and frustrate moves to bring in medical aid in dying (MAiD) legislation, other such as CLW pushed ahead regardless.

Even hitherto supporters of the DIY ‘self-deliverance’ approach such as Derek Humphry (author of Final Exit), expressed saying that he felt it would be irresponsible for him to include any details of the ‘suicide salts’ in a future edition of his book.

Give us the Science

The usefulness, or otherwise, of these inorganic salts can only be resolved when enough data become available.

This is why the recent data about sodium azide from both the Dutch Poisons Centre (DPIC) (who have made public the details of some 19 cases of people who ingested azide), and from member accounts provided by CLW (these data detail some 29 azide deaths since 2019) is so important to the so-called Azide Wars.

Both data sets have been published in the August update of The Peaceful Pill eHandbook.

The Azide Wars

Analysis of the data goes a long way to resolving the issue of the nature of the death that these salts can bring about.

In Exit’s view, sodium azide is well and truly confirmed as a means of bringing about a reliable, DIY death, even if some questions remain about time to loss of consciousness, and the possibility of experiencing un-relievable, unpleasant symptoms in the process.

These accounts should be considered alongside a number of specific, already-known issues such as the challenges of storage, safe disposal, and the possible risk that sodium azide poses after death to others who may try to render help.

In conclusion it is NTgV who are wrong in their assumptions.

There is no evidence that CLW are either amateurs nor can they be said to be blinded by their enthusiasm.

What can be said is that they have been ‘enthusiastic’ in their promotion of Middel X.

However, unlike the Dutch Medical Association, they have at least the science to back up their claims.

Author: Philip Nitschke

Amsterdam, 1 August 2021

 

July 25, 2021

Suicide Related Materials Offences Act

Exit International has long been the subject of political persecution by multiple governments in Australia. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia) amendment to the Australian Criminal Code.

In short, this infamous 2006 Australian law prevents the use of the phone, email, fax and the Internet to discuss one’s end of life choices.

Why does this matter?

Well, since the states of Australia began to pass Assisted Dying laws (Victoria in 2017, West Australia in 2019, Tasmania in 2021), the Act has received a new breath of life; not as an Act that makes life in Australia better in any way, but a law that prevents doctors discussing assisted dying with their patients on the telephone, over the Internet, email or by fax.

It is this prohibition on discussing end of life choices within the context of Australia’s assisted dying laws that is now garnering attention and concern.

The Suicide Related Materials Offences Act was signed into law in July 2005 and implemented in January 2006.

How did this strange law come to be?

While largely forgotten in the annals of Australian political history, conservative catholic politician Chris Ellison left his bigoted footprint all over Australian politics.

It was not enough for this anti-abortionist, anti-pro choice senator to tell then Greens Leader, Bob Brown, that he was a ‘disgrace’ during the Senate debate on the Kevin Andrews Act (the Euthanasia Laws Act led to the overturning of the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act in March 1997).

On becoming Custom’s Minister, Ellison set about to ban the importation into Australia of information (eg. books) about how one may take one’s own life peacefully and reliably and at a time of one’s choosing.

It was Chris Ellison who pushed through a 2001 amendment to the Australian Customs Act (1901) which causes print editions of the Peaceful Pill Handbook to be seized by Australian Border Force today (yes in 2021)!

The Death of Nancy Crick

However, it was not in direct relation to the Peaceful Pill eHandbook that Ellison continued his anti-free speech crusade to stop people talking on the phone or sending emails, or looking at websites etc.

The impetus for that was the death of ‘Gold Coast grandmother’, Nancy Crick.

In the early 2000s, Nancy became an Australian household name. The reason? Suffering from bowel cancer, she wanted to die at home surrounded by her friends and family. She wanted to test the law to see if it was illegal to have anyone with you when you died at home.

Nancy said she got her Nembutal over the Internet. She would later die peacefully at home surrounded by 21 friends and family members.

For Chris Ellison, Nancy’s Crick’s civil disobedience was a red rag to a bull.

What followed was the Ellison Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia).

 Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia)

Nancy Crick

Chris Ellison & the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act

In Killing Me Softly: Voluntary Euthanasia & the Road to the Peaceful Pill (Penguin, 2005), authors Philip Nitschke & Fiona Stewart wrote of the backstory to the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act:

In early 2003, Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison quietly announced a new offensive in a press release that was boxed to the parliamentary press gallery late one Friday afternoon. His release stated that using the Internet for right-to-die information would soon be illegal in Australia. Ellison sought to justify his move by citing two ‘expert studies’. One of these was no study at all. Rather, it was a letter to the editor from the American Journal of Psychiatry that had no status and next-to-no relevance to the use of the Internet by Exit and its members (it concerned mentally ill teenagers on the other side of the world, in an obscure suicide chat room, talking about the gory details of violent deaths).

As one of many politicians in the Howard Government who is driven more by God than by the wishes of his electorate, Ellison’s fiddling of the evidence is not surprising. After all, this is a government who, in Mark Latham’s words, has its social policies ‘determined by Rome’ and for whom a courting of the Catholic vote is a major preoccupation. (Latham is hardly one to throw stones, however, with his recent appointment of one of the Catholic ringleaders in the ‘Euthanasia No’ campaign – Tony Burke – to ALP’s front bench, not to mention fundamentalist Christian Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett to the back.)

Ellison’s basic message was that changes would be made to laws controlling the Internet and little justification was needed.

Prior to the Parliamentary debate of the Bill, the Senate Constitutional and Legal Committee held an inquiry.

Exit was among those to appear.

In Exit’s submission it was argued:

1. A WELL INFORMED ELDERLY POPULATION MAKES FOR HEALTHY PEOPLE
Recent research, by Exit researchers Dr Wendy Gunthorpe and Dr Fiona Stewart (soon to be published in the medical literature) clearly establishes that access to accurate information on end-of-life options is important contributor to the individuals perception of their well being. Put simply once people know their options, they stop worrying and live longer. Well, healthy people is a goal of EXIT International.

To advance this goal, EXIT runs workshops in all Australian states and territories and in some overseas locations. These are consistently booked out ahead of time. To date over 2000 people have attended Exit workshops in Australian and New Zealand. The operation of these workshops is made possible by extensive use of the Internet.

Although there is no general publication of any Exit material, our members are contacted, venues organised and briefing materials made available to our members by way of the Internet. Enactment of the proposed legislation will seriously restrict our ability to run these programs and as a consequence will directly and adversely effect the good health and well being of a growing number of the elderly who benefit from this program.

2. EXCEEDING PARLIAMENT’S AUTHORITY
On the issue of exceeding the Parliament of Australia’s authority, I would draw attention of the Senate to Part V the Constitution and the Legislative powers of the Parliament. This states that the power is given to Parliament “to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Australia”.

The proposed Bill goes much further than this, and in its current form will restrict and control the flow of information to many outside of the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Australia and will affect their lives and their well being.

For example, the provision of specific information by email to an elderly individual in New Zealand would be in breach of the proposed law. Such requests by email from overseas members of Exit are common. I have reproduced one such email request below:

I have had Multiple Sclerosis for 16 yrs, am now classed secondary progressive, and have the fear of losing my dignity and any quality of life, which I am faced with. I live in a Resthome in Oamaru at present where I see other MS sufferers bedridden, some being tube fed, unable to talk or swallow etc, totally incontinent, and I know I do not want to end up like that.

At some point I may want to end my life as peacefully as possible – and while I am still able to do it myself. Although this may be some years away, with this disease there is no reliable prognosis, so I feel I must be prepared now.

I am planning to shift back to my home town of Christchurch, where I might possibly be able to attend one of your workshops, if you’re planning to have any more there?

I realise that the proposed law in Australia might soon prohibit your doing this by email or phone. I am of course an Exit member. The proposed legislation will directly effect this person and many other non-Australians.

An Exit request to present workshop video material to the Senate was granted.

Dr Philip Nitschke MBBS PhD
Director, Exit International
Darwin, 19 August 2004

The South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society submitted:

This bill seeks to censor information on suicide related material. Exit International provides a range of information, including that of palliative care. It does not promote a particular method of committing suicide or intend the material to be used by another person to commit suicide. People have a right to information. To censor information on suicide related material it would be necessary to also preclude a carriage service from being used for the producing of books about self deliverance. People have a right to choose their reading material.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Tasmania submitted:

We consider that these “suicide related material” amendments should be rejected outright because their greatest impact will be upon the poor elderly, frail and/ or incurably suffering people who are not familiar with the legal system. A carriage service they wrote is more than the Internet.

It includes phones, mail, radio, TV, interactive TV and satellite transmission. It would also apply to books and newspapers which all involve carriage services at some part of their production or distribution. None of the proponents of this particular legislation point out that it would criminalise material transmitted legally today in our newspapers, over the phones and by post, their only references are to the Internet.

The submission of Electronic Frontiers Australia went straight to the point:

The proposed offence appears to have the primary purpose of silencing the speech of one particular high profile Australian resident, but only in relation to use of the Internet.

All of these submissions fell on deaf ears as the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia) was passed by the John Howard-controlled Parliament with the full support of the Australian Labor Party. Only the Australian Greens and the Australian Democrats voted against the legislation.

Then West Australian Democrats Senator, Brian Grieg, summed the situation up when he said in his speech against the passing of the Bill:

This Bill is absurd! It represents another triumph by the Religious Right, which continues to press the Government on conservative and symbolic reforms that have little or no impact on reality. And for this reason it is a pyrrhic victory for reactionary forces (sic).

This Bill illustrates the way in which the Coalition continues to politically gesture to the more extreme church groups, and how Labor has not learnt it’s lesson in trying to copy the Government in this regard, and to try and corral the same voting base.

This Bill is victory of style over substance, of superstition over reason, and of ignorance over education.

This Bill is a fool’s illusion, because it cannot and does not achieve the outcome it claims to provide for.

This Bill is not about suicide. It does not address the causes of suicide or even pretend to address them.

At its heart, this Bill is nothing less that the Religious Right attempting to shut down and censor Voluntary Euthanasia (VE), support groups and VE
discussion in the broader community.

We can see this clearly, simply by looking at the key individuals and groups which made submissions to this Bill, and which pushed for its introduction in the first place. They are the usual subjects. They are a who’s who of the Religious Right in Australia. And in spite of the disingenuous secular names of their organisations, they are fundamentally religious organisations.

And their push for this Bill is all about laundering their religious belief into a secular argument, hiding church from state, and translating their personal religious views into public policy and then imposing this on all citizens.

[This Bill] represents yet another push for theocracy over democracy.

Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia)

Brian Grieg

Going Forward

In an article by Charles Corke in The Conversation in June 2021, the problems which the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act (Australia) is causing Australian doctors and patients in regard to assisted dying was well outlined.

While states such as Queensland are requesting of the Federal Governmnent that their doctors be exempted from this section of the Crimes Act (once their assisted dying legislation comes to pass), the pro-Christian Morrison-led government shows little inclination to move.

It would seem, not suprisingly, that Liberal Party Godfather Chris Ellison’s legacy will not be so easily dismissed.

Where is Chris Ellison now?

Chris Ellison is Chancellor of Notre Dame University of Australia. Notre Dame is a private, catholic university.

*See also Chris Ellison’s response to Dennis Shanahan’s ‘Mail Order Suicide Kit’ article in The Australian, 20 August 2001.

July 4, 2021

Celebrating 25 Years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act

We are celebrating 25 Years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1 July 2021, because it was 25 years since the Northern Territory of Australia became the first place in the world to implement a voluntary euthanasia law, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

The law was enacted on 1 July 1995 and implemented 12 months later on 1 July 1996. In celebrating 25 years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, the law was first used by Philip Nitschke on 22 September that same year by Darwin man, Bob Dent.

Celebrating 25 Years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act

Euthanasia Law Timelines

While the US state of Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act in 1994, it was under an injunction and prevented from use until mid 1997.

The Netherlands and Belgium both passed their end of life laws in 2002.

Since the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, similar medical models have spread around the world. These other laws have proven more robust than the NT’s short-lived law.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill act only lasted 9 months because a conservative, catholic MP from Victoria, Kevin Andrews, used a loophole in the Australian Constitution to overturn it by conscience vote in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Section 122 of the Australian Constitution allows the Federal Parliament to make laws for the ‘territories’ (but not the states) of Australia.

Andrews connived to use this section to prevent the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and the various other small territories (eg. Norfolk Island) from making laws on voluntary euthanasia.

These territories can make laws on all other things, but not on end of life choices.

Fast-forward 25 years and on 1 July 2021, the state of West Australia became the 2nd Australian state to implement a right to die law.

The states of Tasmania and South Australia have been passed right to die laws. These are due to be implemented in the coming years.

All laws model the Northern Territory’s

All other Australian laws – both current and proposed – require a number of doctors to approve and grant a patient’s request for help at the end of life.

None show any insight into how to do it better and more kindly.

Kevin Andrews once boasted that in overturning the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act he had set the movement back 20 years.

On this point he was right.

He not only set back the legislative agenda but in doing so, with the support of current senior politicians from both sides of Australian parliament (eg. Tony Burke on the labor side), he helped create a mindset that end of life laws are dangerous and patients are in need of protection (from themselves).

Exit argues that nothing could be further from the truth.

Trust the people. Trust the system. And don’t put unnecessary barriers in the way of people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Hello? Is anyone listening?