Mary Porter is a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Canberra (ACT) Parliament. In recent years, Ms Porter has made end-of-life issues something of a leitmotif for her parliamentary career.
In the Canberra Times yesterday she attacked Philip Nitschke calling him a 'zealot' who was "far more interested in his own self-aggrandisement than he is in promoting rational debate".
"He comes along and he has his plastic bags and his [barbiturate] Nembutal and its about people paying attention to Dr Nitschke and him being the saviour," she said. "When I talked to people overseas who know him, who are pro-euthanasia and work in the field, they told me about experiences they have had with him that have not been positive."
Porter wisely added that, "Dr Nitschke's long-running campaign limited informed debate about end-of-life options such as palliative care and informed planning."
This is one of our abiding concerns: aging Australians and those facing a difficult prognosis will naturally hold concerns for their own welfare which may even amount to genuine fears. Where do they find the solutions to their very real questions? Nitschke's 'poisonous snakeoil salesman' routine and constant public presence might seem to be far easier to access than quality information about medical and support services and a suite of other possible alternatives. Going to Exit for solutions isn't really about choice; it is essentially the end of choice!
But Porter, like others, clearly see that the recent news about Nitschke 'Death Coaching' individuals who suicided using his methods does damage to the pro-euthanasia cause.
The Age newspaper editorialised these concerns yesterday:
It would be a shame were opponents of assisted death to seize on Dr Nitschke's behaviour as an argument against reforming laws that, in Victoria, make it a criminal offence, carrying a maximum penalty of five years' jail, to aid or abet death by suicide.
But, as I've said before, while those who work for legislative change are focussed on the present, Nitschke actually does show us the future; a place where the logic of his argument, that assisted suicide or euthanasia should be available for any adult, any time, regardless of illness etc. as the incremental end point of any limited regimen, comes home to roost. One only need to look to Belgium to see that scenario being played out.
The Canberra Times article closes with Nitschke's reply to Porter. I think it makes this point very well:
"The broader debate is much bigger than her blinkered view that it's all about simply passing a piece of legislation which will allow terminally ill people under set, very specific circumstances to get lawful help to die," he said. "To try and argue that, when people do get embroiled in the much bigger debate about where the borders of these important moral and ethical issues lie, is somehow or other damaging to the cause, or damaging to the euthanasia debate, I think shows a very limited understanding of the broader issue."
If you are troubled by suicidal thoughts or need help in any way, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636