On death and dying
Martin McKenzie-Murray (“Inside the passing of Victoria’s assisted dying law” and “Niagara reflections”, October 28-November 3) writes twice about death and dying. His Niagara reflections are interwoven with the apparent suicide of a man who, despite police counselling, leaps to his death. This is suicide writ large – we do not know his state of mind, but can reasonably assume it is disturbed. His death is violent and lonely (apart from the thousands of unrelated voyeurs). Undoubtedly those who loved him would be rocked by grief and possibly guilt. Elsewhere McKenzie-Murray writes of the genesis and progress of Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill. This bill would not be where it is today, poised for debate in the Legislative Council, without the experiences of the premier (his father dying of cancer) and the health minister (her mother dying of multiple sclerosis). The distinction between death and dying is important. Death involves a few minutes and is the end of any prior suffering, but dying is the days, weeks and often months preceding death, when suffering – physical, psychological and existential – can steadily escalate to an intolerable level. This is what the VAD Bill seeks to humanely and compassionately address. Opponents of the legislation constantly describe it as assisted suicide, state-sanctioned suicide, or even killing. The bill allows a doctor to assist, after a second opinion, a mentally competent person who has intolerable suffering from a terminal illness and who has made an enduring request to end their life by providing appropriate medication which they must self-administer. The suffering person can discuss their decision openly with their doctor and their family, and can then die at home, when they choose (or not), peacefully, securely, with dignity, surrounded by the love of their family. Compare that with the man at Niagara Falls. Suicide – I don’t think so. It is a good death to bring suffering to a calm and peaceful end. W. H. Auden wrote that love and death were the only two subjects worthy of the attention of literature. In voluntary assisted dying, these two subjects can coalesce.
– Dr Rodney Syme, Toorak, Vic
Doctors opposed to final act
The assisted dying article omitted any mention of the opposition of the majority of doctors to this bill. Most doctors know death in its many forms and understand the fear it holds for most. When polls report that most people support euthanasia, I suspect they reflect the fear of dying badly. This legislation appears driven by powerful personal experiences, but it should also be tempered by ethical and practical considerations. The final act will be the administration or consumption of some effective potion to extinguish life. This bill legitimises that extinguishing of life. We have had and repealed state-sanctioned extinguishing of life because of the brutalising impact on our society and the insight that safeguards don’t always work. The involvement of medical practitioners in any form of corporal punishment has been seen as the ultimate betrayal of the Hippocratic oath. Legalising state-sanctioned death may free the doctor from state recrimination but not from his or her fundamental principles. A patient facing impending death needs support and to trust in their doctor. They should be able to have an unambiguous understanding of their doctor’s help with living and dying but not their killing.
– John W. Owen, South Yarra, Vic
Attack on independent voices
In desperately seeking to find dirt to justify police intrusions on GetUp!, the problems in our body politic are sadly laid bare ( Mike Seccombe, “Turnbull sought help from GetUp! for spill”, October 28-November 3). Consider these comments: “According to Sheikh ... the organisation’s focus remains single-mindedly on advancing progressive issues” and “Merely existing to advance progressive politics, to pull the political centre to the left, does not mean someone is associated with or co-ordinating with one or more political parties”. In pressuring GetUp! to lose its independence, what Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash are telling us is that we, the people, cannot advocate free-thinking policy and we cannot aim for consensus over so-called progressive issues. In other words, we must only have compliant silence or oppositional viewpoints aligned to major parties. And we’re supposed to have faith that sound, reasoned policy can emerge and really be “in the national interest”. Many of us watch in disbelief, however, at this “group-think” as parliamentarians who grew up with all the benefits of liberal democracy turn their backs on decency.
– Gil Anaf, Norwood, SA
Attack on Indigenous voices
Australia has two prominent leaders – the prime minister, and Indigenous elder Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu (Editorial, “Breaking the heart”, October 28-November 3). Turnbull’s refusal to recognise his counterpart perpetuates the wrongs done to the Indigenous population. He failed by not responding to Yunupingu’s call for a Makarrata commission. Turnbull’s legacy is neglected people dismissed under his government. The minister for Aboriginal affairs does not represent Indigenous people. He stands for the government’s policy of exclusion.
– Vanessa Toomey, Bellevue Hill, NSW
I live in the country and there are few avenues for stimulation. However, along with Radio National, The New Yorker, the Fin Review, The Saturday Paper and Time, I get by. Peter Craven’s review of Yerma (“Billie boils”, October 21-27) damn near had me in tears. Craven gave me the atmosphere and emotion of the piece. He exposed me to the power of Billie Piper and Brendan Cowell such that I almost hopped a plane to Melbourne.
– Michael Weldon, Nabageena, Tas
Letters are welcome: [email protected]
Please include your full name and address and a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and content, and may be published in print and online. Letters should not exceed 150 words.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 4, 2017. Subscribe here.