All suffering is equally worthy
Shakira Hussein is right to argue that many people living with severe illness and/or disability are discriminated against by being denied the level of services needed for a self-directed life (“Living with dignity”, August 16-22). However, Dr Hussein conflates very different individuals and life circumstances in her absolutist argument against “euthanasia”. On the one hand, there are people living with disease and disability who rightly call for their suffering to be addressed through improved material support. On the other, there are hopelessly ill and/or dying people experiencing intractable suffering who earnestly seek help to die within the context of a protective legislative framework. Their call is for the respect that comes from being supported, not thwarted, when seeking assistance to relinquish their lives. These arguments for autonomy are not mutually exclusive, as suggested in the commentary. It is not an either/or scenario as to whose wishes should be respected here. We have an obligation to reduce all forms of avoidable suffering; not arbitrate between them.
– Julia Anaf, Norwood, SA
Bring clarity to the definitions
I have just attended the International Conference on End of Life: Law, Ethics, Policy and Practice in Brisbane. This was not the end-of-life-care perspective I was anticipating. The major speakers were philosophers and lawyers – their presentations on euthanasia were strong in delivery but flawed in argument. The main premise seemed to be that the autonomy and rights of the individual must reign supreme. There was little mention of concern for or correlative duty to the spouse, the children, the family, the friends; the potential effect of societal expectations leading to coercion of the disabled was ignored. The first argument seemed to be that simple repetition of the claim that euthanasia is a good is sufficient to prove that euthanasia is a good. The second cited the Dutch experience over the past 10 years as proof that there is no “slippery slope”. I wasn’t overly reassured by several recent cases – two involving children, and another a lady with gradually diminishing eyesight. There were some brighter moments with speakers who talked about end-of-life care, in the sense discussed by Dr Hussein – conversations on how best to engage, how best to manage, how best to care. The contrast between euthanasia and end-of-life care is becoming stark – it may be time to emphasise the difference, so that the growing interest and practice of end-of-life caring is not constrained by confusion.
– John Quinlan, Mangerton, NSW
Fortress has built-in weakness
The real weakness of the “stop the boats” policy is that it is trying to treat a symptom – not cure a disease. Success would be achieved if, when we stopped interception, the boats stopped coming. This is clearly not the case and it never will be. This is because corrupt countries, such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Burma, can dump their unwanted citizenry on more tolerant countries with impunity. What the government has not told us is that the present policy, together with its inherent inhumanity, must continue forever; that it is committed to a concept of “Fortress Australia”. Meanwhile, the disease, the political refugees among the 40 million dispossessed people wandering the world at present, remains unaddressed. History shows that ultimately all fortresses fail just as Australia’s certainly will. Finding a successful substitute for “stop the boats” will not be easy but, given the frailty of the present policy, isn’t it high time we made a start?
– Peter Stamford, Wahroonga, NSW
On the path to genuine democracy
In a newspaper dedicated to progressive and critical views, I was surprised The Saturday Paper saw fit to publish the conservative opinions expressed in Leigh Sales’ interview with the editor-in-chief of The Economist, John Micklethwait (“Democracy on trial”, August 16-22). Interviewer and interviewee seemed to accept that “democracy” means the very limited parliamentary democracy that currently exists in many countries, which is essentially hedged and controlled by powerful political and economic elites. The revitalisation of democracy is not about “regenerating governments”, as Micklethwait says, but about systemic change in which the aspirations of the populace are actually reflected in governments that work for them – “of the people, for the people, by the people”. This was the driving motivation of the Occupy movement a few years ago. The general public cynicism and apathy towards politics and politicians exists because in countries such as Australia we are further from the ideals of genuine democracy than we have ever been.
– Sasha Shtargot, Ivanhoe, Vic
Simple changes can be made
There is clearly a growing groundswell of discontent with the process that, until now, we have been pleased to call democratic government. Government in this country, as in the US, has become all but dysfunctional. Part of the problem is perhaps that we have simply accepted that our system has always been the best of all forms of governance and, thus, has avoided much in the way of ongoing scrutiny. It has not been challenged, and it has not evolved. A little tinkering around the edge might keep revolution at bay for a while at least. I have so far not been persuaded that an electronic system of secret voting could not be incorporated into our parliamentary process. Members could at last vote for what they believed was best for the country rather than what was best for the party. In addition, an achievable reform would be to appoint politically independent Speakers, perhaps from a judicial background.
– David Payne, Bermagui, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 23, 2014. Subscribe here.