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Peaceful Pill Blog

September 25, 2016

Why the Belgians have it right

It will be twenty years ago this week since the Northern Territory passed the world’s first law on voluntary euthanasia.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI) was a carefully-drafted piece of legislation that allowed a terminally ill person of sound mind to ask a doctor for help to die. The law expressly excluded children.

While the ROTI law only lasted nine months until it was overturned by a conscience vote in Federal Parliament, its legacy lives on in today’s debate about right to die legislation.

The flurry of enthusiasm in recent days by Victorian politicians means that a voluntary euthanasia law in this state is a sure thing. It is only a matter of time.

With this in mind, and given the news from Belgium of the euthanasia death of a terminally-ill 17-year-old – ie a minor/ child, it seems a good time to be asking ourselves what type of law we want Spring St to pass.

In proposing the NT law back in 1995, then Chief Minister Marshall Perron said that he did not want a law with safeguards so strict that the process of qualifying was a tortuous one.

Sadly, Perron’s fears were realised. At least according to Dr Philip Nitschke. Philip speaks often of the hoops that his four dying patients had to jump through in the process of qualifying to use the law. He says the ordeal almost killed them.

Do we want the same for Victoria?

Do we want to force dying people to spend their final days, using the little strength they have left dealing with red tape?

Where does the balance lie? Can we do better?

It was not only safeguard overload that marked the NT’s attempt at a law, the ROTI Act also excluded young people. Back then, the plight of teenagers was firmly in the ‘too hard’ basket.

This is despite the fact that young people get terminal diseases like cancer, and despite the fact that palliative care can often only go so far in relieving the awful symptoms that serious illness can bring.

It is not only Woody Allen who fears the way he will die, rather than death itself, the academic literature says the same thing.

The news of the recent euthanasia of the teenager in Belgium has re-ignited the right to die debate globally.

The Belgium Federal Euthanasia Commission has been reported saying that the terminally ill young person asked for euthanasia because they were in ‘unbearable physical pain’.

What is there to argue about.

Do we – as a society – insist the young person must suffer on, simply because they are under 18 years of age?

Or do we do the right thing and allow them some relief in their final weeks, days or hours?

When confronted with the facts of the situation in Belgium, I would argue this is a no brainer.

We wouldn’t torture our pets. We should not torture our terminally ill children.

When it comes to kids and euthanasia, the largesse of Belgium and Holland’s laws should not be underestimated.

These countries have not shied away from this pointy end of the right to die debate. Their humanity should be celebrated. And let’s not stop here.

What about the psychiatrically ill? This was another group excluded by the NT law.

Yet these people too can request euthanasia in Belgium and Holland.

Indeed, at the euthanasia conference that I am convening this week at the State Library, controversial Belgium psychiatrist Dr Lieve Thienpont is one of the keynote speakers.

Dr Thienpont’s work in Flanders in Belgium is almost exclusively in the area of euthanasia for the psychiatrically ill.

In Melbourne she will be talking about euthanasia for children, non-terminally ill older people (those who say they have had a good innings but now is the time to go) and the mentally ill.

While so-called pro-lifers will no doubt picket her appearance, I have found Lieve  to be a calm and gentle woman who has been prepared to stick her neck out on behalf of the most vulnerable in our community.

Those who other euthanasia laws turn their back on.

In this regard, Dr Thienpont has battled it out amidst the sensationalist headlines.

Even if you do not agree with euthanasia, the insights which someone of her standing and vast experience deserve a fair hearing before we allow debate to turn to arguments of slippery slopes and eugenics.

For the likes of Dr Thienpont, suffering is suffering regardless of age and irrespective of whether one has an un-treatable physical or mental illness.

If treatment, let alone cure, is not an option then why should we insist such people live on?

These are the difficult, but not iresolvable, questions that the Victorian Parliament is going to have to face if they are to bring in euthanasia legislation.

There are plenty of nay-sayers who will tell them it’s all too hard and to leave well alone.   But the Belgium experience suggests that euthanasia legislation can be broad and it can work well if preventing needless suffering is its aim.

Fiona Stewart, PhD LLB

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July 31, 2016

Why Legalized Testing of Nembutal is Common Sense

In mid July at the Secret Garden Party Festival in Cambridgeshire in the UK, The Loop alcohol and drug testing service achieved the impossible.

They conducted police-approved, lawful drug testing for party-goers.

Politics.co.uk writes that a 10m sq patch of lawn became Ground Zero for those wanting their party drugs tested.

This is how it worked.

Party-goers would bring a sample of their drugs in for testing.

Those drugs were put through a rigorous three-phase testing process where they were ‘tested for content, purity and strength by a team of chemists without any police interference.’

The testing took around 15 minutes.

‘When those using the service came back to collect their results, they were given individually tailored, free and confidential advice by experienced drugs workers.’

‘This was not ‘drug checking’ to ensure safer consumption, but harm minimisation.’

‘And yes, it was legal.’

‘No drugs were returned to users and all drugs were destroyed in the testing process, with police collecting any remnants.’

The parallels with Nembutal testing for the elderly are clear.

Bring in a sample of what you have?

The sample will not be returned to you.

Post-analysis you will know if you have a lethal drug or not.

At this point you will be subject to counseling.

Nothing patronising, just common sense.

Do you have the mental capacity to make decisions about your life and death?

Do you realise what would happen if you were to take your drug?

Counseling that ensures that you have the ability to make your own informed decisions and you understand the consequences of them.

Knowing you have the ‘real thing’, you could go home, lock it safely away secure in the knowledge that your insurance for the future is assured, while hoping all the while you’ll never need it.

If you have been cheated (perhaps by an unscrupulous online Nembutal scammer), you can flush your product away, grateful that you may have just been saved from a fate worse than death.

Think about it.

 Fiona Stewart, PhD LLB

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July 14, 2016

Why Theresa May is no Feminist

I must admit, while not a conservative voter, last week I started to get a bit sucked in!

Last week, there was Theresa May, Britain’s would-be next (and now new) Prime Minister wearing purple.

While I’m yet to notice Hillary in the color of feminism (and dignity), I convinced myself that May’s choice of frock color was no accident.

And then there was that photo of her in the black tshirt, with white writing stating ‘This is what a feminist looks like’.

Good on her I thought!

I’ve always liked the sentiment as I thought smugly to myself, there’s the proof.

But one look at May’s voting pattern on the fundamentals of bodily determination – read the fundamental human rights of abortion and euthanasia – and she is as anti-choice and as anti-feminist as the next ‘pro-lifer’.

For instance, in regard to Britain’s last right to die bill known as the Marris Assisted Dying Bill No 2, May was one of the 74% of MPs to vote against the bill.

Point is she didn’t have to nail her colors to the post quite so blatantly, she choose to do so.

Especially not when David Cameron, Tim Farron of the Lib Dems, Angus Robertson (SNP at Westminster) and Jeremy Corbyn (one day before he became Labour leader) did not vote at all.

Only Ed Miliband (then Labour Leader) supported the bill, and presumably a person’s right to choose when and how they die.

And then there is May’s infamous 2008 parliamentary vote on a bill that sought to decrease the period when a woman could access an abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. This occurred in the face of medical/ scientific opinion to the contrary.

Clearly, if we are talking about the weeks of gestation we are not talking about women’s rights. Already the discourse is that of the pro-life, anti-choice anti-woman polemicists who seem to think that the woman carrying a foetus is nothing more than a vessel with no voice and no say over what happens to her body, to her self.

I wish I could be optimistic about Mrs May. But I’m not.

The fact that the UK has voted on 12 separate assisted dying bills over a space of 11 years and that the most recent attempt in September 2015 was defeated so soundly (74% against), begs the question of whether Westminster will ever grow up enough to pass civilized laws when it comes to the end of life.

With Theresa May in charge one thing is for sure. This won’t be any time soon.

 Fiona Stewart, PhD LLB

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May 21, 2016

From Voluntary Euthanasia to Rational Suicide? Exit’s 20th Anniversary Conference

The forthcoming Exit 20th Anniversary conference is titled ‘From Voluntary Euthanasia to Rational Suicide’.

But what are we talking about?

Generally speaking, VE – voluntary euthanasia is the catch-all term that means an assisted death. Euthanasia comes from the Greek, meaning good death.

Voluntary speaks for itself (although as some Christian groups would argue, there is nothing voluntary about it. Silly them).

In more technical talk, however, voluntary euthanasia can also mean a lethal injection. This is when a doctor can lawfully help a person to die. Hands on help, if you like. This is the model used in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

In Darwin in 1996, this is kind of what Dr Philip Nitschke did when he helped four patients to die under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (ROTI).

Although Dr Nitschke built a Deliverance Machine so he would not have to administer the lethal injection.  While Dr Nitschke believed passionately in a person’s right to choose to die. He did not want to be the one doing the ‘killing’.

The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act lasted nine months before being over turned by the Federal Parliament of Australia in March 1997, as a result of a conscience vote. The Private Members Bill that led to the defeat of the NT’s law was Mr Kevin Andrews.

As a kind of semantic difference to VE sits Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) which has more recently morphed into to VAD – Voluntary Assisted Dying.

Each of these latter terms involve a physician prescribing a lethal drug to a patient. The patient however must be able to drink the lethal drug themselves.  There is no hands-on assistance. This is the legal model in the US states of Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California. Canada too will follow this approach.

Regardless of what term you use, all of these involve the medical profession.

Exit International works alongside these legal frameworks by providing information about euthanasia, assisted suicide, or whatever you would like to call it.

Moving on 20 years and we have arrived at ‘rational suicide’.

Rational suicide can be defined as the act of dying by one’s own hand after careful consideration.

Rational Suicide is an informed and considered decision (unlike the irrational suicide of depressed teens).

Rational Suicide does not depend upon the medical profession providing permission or the means of death.

Two recent examples of rational suicide are that of renowned psychology Professor in the US, Sandy Bem. See the New York Times article.

In Australia, scientists Peter and Pat Shaw rationally suicided together. This was written about in detail in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 2016.

To this end, Exit is holding its 20th anniversary conference on the journey that has been undertaken from a time when a patient could receive a lethal injection from a doctor, to now when a person can rationally plan when and how they will die without medical interference.

The Exit Conference that will be held at the State Library of Victoria on 22 – 23 September 2016 features speakers who have much to contribute to how we can understand the right to die debate.

Australian historian Dr Deb Campbell will examine how the Australian right to die debate has become stultified in old frameworks of understanding and a discourse that is going nowhere.

US Law Professor Susan Stefan will consider if rational suicide / assisted dying is a medical treatment or a civil right.

Dr Lieve Thienpont, a Belgium psychatrist will explain how rational suicide is provided for under Belgium’s voluntary euthanasia laws.

Ms Anny Shaw, daughter of Peter and Pat Shaw, shall speak about her and her sisters’ experience of her parents rational suicide pact.

If you are in Melbourne in September you are invited to come along.

This historic conference is destined to be a gathering like none other.

Register Now

 Fiona Stewart, PhD MPolLaw LLB

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