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‘It will bring comfort’: Euthanasia pioneer Philip Nitschke welcomes passage of assisted dying laws

By   Debbie Cuthbertson

Australian euthanasia pioneer Philip Nitschke says the passage of Victoria’s assisted dying bill will bring “comfort” to many people.

But opponents of the legislation, including former prime minister Paul Keating and Right To Life campaigner Margaret Tighe​, have expressed their bitter disappointment at the legislation’s passing.

Speaking from the Netherlands, where he runs Exit International – which bills itself as an information and advocacy organization for end-of-life choices – Dr Nitschke said he was very glad that the protracted process in Victoria was almost over.

“I was listening until about midnight here,” he said on Friday of the marathon 26-hour sitting to pass the legislation in Victoria’s lower house. The bill will now go before the state’s upper house in November.
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“I’m very pleased that Victoria will of course be in a position to act.”

Dr Nitschke was the first doctor in the world to administer a legal lethal voluntary injection under the Northern Territory’s short-lived Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (1995).

Four of his patients used the law to end their lives before it was overturned by the federal government in 1997.
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Australia had lost a lot of ground on the issue since the 1990s, Dr Nitschke said.

“Australia led the world back then and now of course it’s a matter of catch-up, because the Victorian model is a very conservative piece of legislation,” hes said

“There’s a very long period, 18 months, before it is enacted.

“In this interim period there will be a lot of people watching [it] closely.”

The bill would have “very little impact on what we do” he said of Exit International’s work. “The process itself, the demand will continue,” he said.

Asked about the impact of the legislation’s passage on people considering euthanasia, he said: “I think it will bring a lot of comfort to a lot of people. They will feel a little bit safer, that this basic form of safety is in place.”

A spokeswoman for Go Gentle Australia, a group founded by TV presenter, producer and comedian Andrew Denton to campaign for assisted dying law reform, said Mr Denton did not wish to comment on Friday.

Mr Denton was in the public gallery during the sitting. He appeared to film the moment when the legislation was passed and embraced supporters afterwards.

Mrs Tighe, the Right To Life Australia president, described the passing of the bill as “devastating”.

Mrs Tighe, who has campaigned for more than 40 years against issues including euthanasia and abortion, said she was appalled at the intransigence of the Andrews government in refusing all amendments to the legislation.

“They just resolutely opposed every reasonable amendment,” she said, citing proposals to report numbers of cases annually to the coroner and to restrict advertising.

“The amendments were very reasoned and would have improved things greatly. I think it’s tragic for the state of Victoria, for vulnerable Victorians.”

Dying With Dignity Victoria vice-president Rodney Syme, who has assisted terminally ill people to end their lives, said it was exciting that the “will of the people has been expressed through Parliament”.
Dying With Dignity’s Dr Rodney Syme.

Dr Syme, who has campaigned in support of euthanasia for decades, heard the sitting from home but missed the bill’s passage.

“I was listening to the debate and they were talking about grievances and all of this stuff. I thought, ‘This isn’t interesting; I’ll put some rubbish out.’

“I came back inside and the parliamentary website had closed. Then I started getting messages. I missed the moment.”

He said it was “a step forward, the first step in the process, so there’s work to be done”.

“But it’s very encouraging. Like all social change it takes time.”

But former Labor prime minister Paul Keating has reacted angrily to success of the bill in the lower house, branding it “deeply regressive” and an abrogation of “the core instinct to survive”.
Former prime minister Paul Keating.

Mr Keating, who weighed in to the contentious debate at the last minute on Thursday to warn MPs against the change, has issued a terse statement on the legislation.

“[This] is truly a sad moment for the whole country,” Mr Keating said.

“I am sure it is true that those who voted for the legislation did so with the best of intentions. But again, this vote underlines the compelling truth that, as often as not, good intentions are not enough.”

Mr Keating remains hopeful that the Legislative Assembly’s 47-37 approval of the controversial laws will be reversed when the historic bill reaches the Legislative Council next month.
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