Fitz: Where is the premier up to on the legislation?
AD: He is strongly opposed, and he made his speech in that respect, but in the Lower House it passed by 20 votes, which is a significant majority. The leader of the opposition, also a Catholic, is opposed to it. But their pragmatic view now is that its passing should not be unnecessarily delayed by parliamentary games.
Fitz: If it passes, how will it work in NSW?
AD: What it will mean is if you are terminally ill and you have a diagnosis from two doctors that says you are likely to die within six months – or in the case of a neurodegenerative disease, within 12 months – then you can seek the legal right to take a lethal substance which you can choose to take or not at a time of your choosing surrounded by the people you love when your suffering becomes too much. If you take it, you slip into a coma and you’ll die very peacefully, usually within about an hour.
Fitz: Why have you pushed it with such personal passion? By my count you’ve been doing this for six years!
AD: Well, initially because I watched my dad die in pain over three shocking days. But more than that, once I set off to explore this issue, I took myself overseas to see how these laws work in practice. And I went around Australia and I started talking to people that were desperate for this law, including people that have since died, and I saw a terrible imbalance. What I saw was the people opposing these laws were among the most powerful and entitled in the country. It was the Catholic Church; it was the Australian Medical Association, it was Palliative Care Australia – all of them the gatekeepers to the medicine cabinet. So what I saw was some of the most powerful forces in Australia, fighting against the most vulnerable people in Australia, who are the terminally ill, the traumatised and their families, and I saw a hugely unfair fight. So, I wanted to put my professional skills and bring other professionals in to even up the fight.
We’re really talking about a theology and medical practice that goes back to the Middle Ages.
Fitz: I am surprised by the AMA and the palliative care mob, but we’ll get to them. Is the Catholic Church under orders from Rome?
AD: Yes. The Vatican says that euthanasia is evil, and must never be countenanced. And this is how hardline they are: if you’re a lifetime Catholic, and you’re dying, and you’ve chosen voluntary assisted dying, then the Vatican’s instructions to the priest, are “You must turn and leave the room. Do not give the Last Rites.”
Fitz: Bloody hell! That is hard ball.
AD: It’s so hard line and it doesn’t surprise me their congregation is dwindling because, on this issue as with others, they’re out of touch with their own congregation. All polling for many years shows about 70 per cent of Catholics support this. The opposition is what I call “the hard men in their high hats”, the leadership of the church who want it stopped.
Fitz: Without going too deep into the geology of the theology, what is their damn problem?
AD: It is essentially that life is a gift from God, and that it is not for us to decide when it begins and when it ends. That is up to God. But there’s a deeper part of it, which is more disturbing, I think, which is that our suffering at the end of life joins us with the suffering of Christ on the cross. And in our suffering, we are in some way redeeming our souls.
Fitz: That sounds to me – to use a non-theological term – nuts.
AD: It’s their beliefs, and I respect that, but I have a serious issue with them being imposed on others. And in some ways, Pete, the voluntary assisted dying debate is the last fight of the Middle Ages. We’re really talking about a theology and medical practice that goes back to the Middle Ages.
How you treat people at end of life is in this country is in many ways still guided by Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Catholic scholar, who essentially held that if somebody’s dying and suffering, you can give them enough pain relief to ease their suffering, which may unintentionally result in their death. But you can never give them enough pain relief to end their life, if that’s your intention all along. What that means in practice, is that a doctor who may hold a strong religious belief will give you pain relief, but sometimes slowly, and less than required to end it, even if you beg for it to be over. And that’s actually what this law is about: who has the keys to the medicine cabinet, who gets to decide what happens at the end of your life.
Fitz: Tell me how on earth the Palliative Care Association and the Australian Medical Association can have been forces against VAD?
AD: Well, there’s a huge streak of “doctor knows best” in Australian medicine and the AMA in particular is still, by and large, run by a conservative group of doctors. They are shifting, but they remain the only major professional medical organisation in Australia still formally opposed to assisted dying. As to palliative care, 60 per cent of Australia’s palliative care is supplied by the Catholic Church.
Fitz: In your own journey on this, what has been your high and low point?
AD: The high point was probably the scene when the law passed in Victoria. It was a very, very intense and fierce debate. Many of us had been up ridiculous hours for many days and as that law passed, and in this beautiful old chamber, I felt the chamber filled with ghosts – my father, the ghosts of the people I’ve met who had suffered terribly, some who’d taken their own lives. And so that was a powerful moment.
Fitz: And the low point?
AD: I met a beautiful man out near Lithgow called Lawrie Daniel, who had really savage multiple sclerosis. And I interviewed him and got to know him and his wife, Rebecca. Lawrie was reaching a point where his life was unbearable, and he had two young kids. He had encouraged his family to go away for the weekend just to take a break from caring for him, and while they were away … (voice breaking) … he ended his own agony. Every time I drive over the Blue Mountains, I think of Lawrie and how he died, and it makes me very upset that anybody had to go through that. A VAD law would have given Lawrie a choice. These suicides (of the terminally and chronically ill) happen almost at a rate of one a week in NSW. So, when I hear people like Archbishop Anthony Fisher talk about how “we must protect the vulnerable” I get gangry. I never hear him talk about those vulnerable people.
Fitz: I have Archbishop Fisher on line one. He says, “I fear that this bill will dehumanise the medical and nursing professions, creating a health industry where it might become more cost-effective or expedient to push people towards death.”
AD: Yeah, they’ve been trotting that out for years completely evidence free. Clearly the Archbishop has spent no time speaking to the doctors and families engaged in this around Australia because if he did, he would know that in voluntary assisted dying the engagement between the medical professionals and the families is one of the most intensely compassionate and humane experiences any doctor will undergo. And, you know, I understand that Archbishop Fisher has a political point to make, but I really wish, using the words of St Mark, he could “walk in the shoes of other people” rather than pronouncing about them from ignorance.
Fitz: I gather Archbishop Fisher wants amendments?
AD: He is insisting that forcing Catholic or other religious providers to have VAD on their premises, amounts to a grave attack on freedom of religion. He’s saying no, that shouldn’t be allowed. Now, here’s a legal fact: residential aged care facilities, whether they’re Catholic or otherwise, are people’s homes. So, what he’s trying to push is the hard doctrine of the Church, meaning that you can’t access a legally available medical choice in your own home. Every other state that has debated this has rejected it because it’s not only unfair, it’s not only contrary to the laws of the land, it’s cruel.
Fitz: Nietzsche talked about “the melancholy of all things completed”. If the VAD law passes on Wednesday night, will you wake on Thursday morning, wondering, what now?
AD: The work isn’t over. There’s the ACT and NT. And there. And there’s already a Catholic group called Hope, devoting itself to repealing the laws, just like abortion in the US. So, I will step back a bit, but the work doesn’t end.
Fitz: Good luck, for Wednesday, and thank you. Go not softly into that good night, but rage, rage for the dying of the light.
AD: Spoken like a poet.
Joke of the Week
“Mayday, mayday – I’m in a light plane just off Botany Bay and the pilot has just had a fatal heart attack. I am flying upside down at 3000 metres and travelling at 240 kmh. Mayday, mayday!”
“Calm down, we acknowledge you and we’ll guide you down after a few questions. The first thing is not to panic, remain calm! How do you know you are travelling at 3000 metres?”
“I can see that it reads 3000 metres on the altimeter dial in front of me.″
“Okay, that’s good, remain calm. How do you know you’re travelling at 240 kmh?″
“I can see that it reads 240 kmh on the airspeed dial in front of me.″
“Okay, this is great so far, but it’s heavily overcast, so how do you know you’re flying upside down?″
“The pee in my pants is running out of my shirt collar!”
Tweet of the week
Scott Morrison is shaping up to be the worst thing to happen to the Liberal Party since Bob Hawke.
Veteran retired News Limited political journalist, Malcolm Farr.
Quotes of the week
“Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.” Greg Norman on the Saudi Arabian murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. I have made a firm reply.
“What Scott Morrison says is that it is OK to find $30 million for a block of land that is worth $3 million. It is OK his government can always find money for sports rorts, for commuter car park rorts, for all of this activity … he is OK to waste those billions of dollars. A billion dollars literally on advertising of the government itself. But backing a $1-an-hour pay increase is not OK. Workers who are paid $20.33 an hour to be paid $1 extra. That is what this debate is about.” Anthony Albanese
“The Australian church is looking to see whether the faith and practice of this church has changed. It has proved to be the case that when statements like this one have failed, then some Anglicans have found their conscience has not allowed them to continue fellowship.” The Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, miffed that an attempt to have the national church affirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman (which was passed by the house of laity by 63 votes to 47, and by the house of clergy by 70 votes to 39) was denied when the bishops exercised their power of veto by rejecting the statement 12 to 10. Two bishops abstained.
“As the prime minister said, he’s unaware, I’m unaware, it’s a matter for the Department of Finance. I’m not aware of any of those things. I have no information. I haven’t been called as a witness. I haven’t been asked to provide evidence. And as the prime minister said, if it involved me, he would have been made aware and hasn’t been made aware.” Alan Tudge saying he knows “nussink” about whether the Department of Finance was close to finalising a reported $500,000 settlement with his former staffer, Rachelle Miller, who brought a workplace compensation claim, and the reason for the settlement. Morrison has since confirmed that he would welcome Tudge back to his ministry.
“I don’t care if barristers and lawyers and others up there in Macquarie Street – not in the parliament but in the barristers’ chambers – disagree with me. They disagree with me all the time. I’ve never had much truck with them over the course of my entire political career.” Scott Morrison, still trying to make a federal ICAC sound like a bad idea. He also said he had “never been a fan” of how the NSW ICAC operated, accusing the agency of having “destroyed people’s reputations and careers before it’s even made a finding”.
“I’m apologising for how people might have perceived it, and the fact that it is confronting, and it is ugly, and I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but that is the correct terminology.” Katherine Deves, backtracking on her half-hearted apologies about her views on transgender people, in this case for calling transgender children of being “surgically mutilated”. You have to wonder what she could say if she did want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“It’s worth hundreds of billions into the economy if you get this right. In this uncertain time, we need to utilise every available resource and act quickly at scale and have confidence in the long-term payback. We are facing record job vacancies and growing skills shortages, yet we have a ready workforce, which is highly educated and skilled that is sidelined by powerful barriers to their participation.” Chief Executive Women’s president Sam Mostyn saying that women are the country’s “most untapped resource”, and investing in policies such as higher wages and better childcare would boost their participation and bring huge economic rewards. Australian businesses starved of skilled workers could recruit from a pool of more than half a million job-ready women, but only if the next government invests in better childcare, improves access to paid parental leave and drives higher wages in critical industries.
“We’ve been having this conversation for about the last four years, and on each occasion it has been presented that apparently students are being expelled each and every day, each and every week, or each and every year. There is no evidence of that at all. There is none.” Scott Morrison defending his plan to pursue a Religious Discrimination Bill before legislating any student safeguards.
“I am astonished that he has walked away from that. We need to protect people from discrimination whether it is religious discrimination or on the basis of people’s sexuality.” Anthony Albanese, saying that Morrison had written to him last year pledging to amend the Sex Discrimination Act as part of the religious bills package.
“For all dignified Afghan women wearing hijab is necessary and the best hijab is chadori [the head-to-toe burqa] which is part of our tradition and is respectful. Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes. Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else.” Shir Mohammad, an official from the Taliban vice and virtue ministry, in a statement about a decree just issued that says that women should leave the home only when necessary, and that male relatives would face punishment – starting with a summons and escalating up to court hearings and jail time – for women’s dress code violations.