Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Right to Choose an Assisted Death: Time for Legislation?

What: Launch of the Australia21 report: The Right to Choose an Assisted Death: Time for Legislation?
Who: Launched by Emeritus Professor The Hon Peter Baume AC
Where: Room 2S3, Parliament House Canberra
When: 10.30am Friday 26 April 2013.

A report on assisted dying prepared by Australia21 will be launched by Emeritus Professor The Hon Peter Baume AC at Parliament House, Canberra at 10:30am on Friday 26 April.

The report follows a high-level roundtable held in Brisbane in January on the question “How should Australia regulate voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide?” The roundtable brought together a group of former politicians, doctors, lawyers, palliative care workers, students and opponents and supporters of assisted dying following their review of a discussion paper on assisted dying prepared by two senior Queensland legal academics, Professors Ben White and Lindy Wilmott of the Health Law Research Centre, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology..

The lead author of the report and convenor of the roundtable, Emeritus Prof Bob Douglas AO said:

World views on assisted dying are changing rapidly. In recent years a number of jurisdictions around the world have decriminalized assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia with generally satisfactory outcomes. National polls make it clear that Australians want to have this possibility available to them as they approach the end of their lives. The issue has been extensively debated in the past in both state and federal parliaments, but has been heavily opposed by a small but highly influential segment of the Australian population  Our report presents both sides of the argument and concludes in favour of legislative action to protect doctors and patients alike who wish to choose assisted dying.

Co-author of the report, legal academic Professor Ben White said:

The current law on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide is flawed. The law lacks coherence and there is a body of evidence that shows it is not being followed. Reform is needed.

Professor Baume has been a practising clinician, public health academic, Senator, Federal Health Minister and Chancellor of the Australian National University. He undertook published research into the attitudes and practices of Australian doctors to euthanasia during the 1990s. He also participated in the Australia21 roundtable discussion which prompted this report.

Contact:      Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas   0409 233 138
   Professor Ben White                      0422 538 895

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Political support for pragmatic drug policies

The former British Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, who died this week, was universally regarded as a no-nonsense 'conviction politician'.

Few know of her important role in the early adoption and vigorous implementation of a needle exchange programme to control the spread of HIV in the United Kingdom. At that stage, in 1986, the Netherlands was the only country in the world to have started a similar policy. The discovery of the condition, now referred to as HIV/AIDS, was first announced to the world on 5 June 1981. It was clear very early on that this condition was a serious health, social and economic threat to the world but little was known about the nature and extent of this threat.

Mrs Thatcher accepted the recommendation to establish a national needle exchange programme to slow the spread of HIV among and from people who inject drugs. The recommendation was made by a UK committee established to develop an effective response to HIV. The UK needle exchange programme undoubtedly prevented many HIV infections and much needless suffering as well as saving many lives and many pounds. Mrs Thatcher's decision influenced many other countries to adopt needle syringe programs. Australia's first needle syringe programme was established on 12 November 1986 as an act of civil disobedience and prompted the then NSW Government to establish a state wide system. All other states and territories followed within two years.

Many assume that pragmatic drug policies are generally a product of left wing political parties and governments. This is not so. The experience of Mrs Thatcher in establishing a needle exchange programme in the UK in 1986 and President Nixon establishing a national methadone treatment programme in the USA in 1969 are examples of conservative politicians adopting pragmatic drug policies. Both were excellent decisions though still often criticised.

On 2 April 1985, the then Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Bob Hawke) convened a 'Special Premier's Conference' (the 'Drug Summit') at which it was agreed by all eight governments represented (the Commonwealth, six states, the Northern Territory) that 'harm minimisation' would henceforth be Australia's official national drug policy. At the time, five of the governments were Labor while three (Queensland, Bjelke-Petersen; Tasmania, Gray; and Northern Territory, Tuxworth) were centre-right (National, Liberal and Country Liberal respectively). For many years, Australia's response to HIV and drug policy enjoyed bi-partisan support. All nine Australian governments have continued to support harm minimisation since 1985 whatever the political hue of the party or parties forming government.