Australian politics, society & culture

Friday, 25th July 2014

THUS SPAKE THE MEDICAL BOARD

Dr Philip Nitschke has for decades been synonymous with the debate over whether a person has a right to die. For the most part this debate has taken place in the narrow context of people suffering terminal illness. Between 1 July 1996 and 25 March 1997, when Canberra intervened, mentally and physically competent adults in the Northern Territory could choose to end their lives with medical assistance or by procuring drugs if they had a confirmed terminal illness and the support of three doctors, including a psychiatrist. After the Commonwealth overturned the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1996 (NT), Dr Nitschke founded Exit International, an organisation that campaigns for "rational suicide" and regards terminal illness as only one of a range of legitimate motivations. 

On Wednesday night, following allegations that Dr Nitschke had failed to refer a suicidal but not terminally ill man to counselling, the Medical Board of Australia used emergency powers to suspend him immediately from practising as a doctor. Dr Nitschke has responded angrily, describing the suspension as political. It's now clear, if it wasn't before, that the Medical Board and Dr Nitschke have positions which differ at the level of fundamental philosophy. 

The original Hippocratic Oath, historically sworn by medical students upon entering the profession, prohibited doctors from procuring abortions as well as administering "deadly medicine". Society has changed in the intervening 2500 years, and the Oath has been revised often and is now less and less used in practice. But a changing society generates points of passionate debate. The question of whether we have the right to choose the timing and manner of our death, now that we have the technological capacity to do so, is one that's unlikely to end with the conflict between Dr Nitschke and the Australian Medical Board.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

Sign up to get Politicoz delivered
to your email address every weekday at lunch time.

Push for G20 cuts to health, pensions

"As Joe Hockey hits back at critics of his budget sales job, the federal government’s top economic official has warned of the growing weight of spending on pensions as the population ages in Australia and other countries."

Also: Joe Hockey's welfare mum "may not exist" (Patricia Karvelas, The Australian); Negative gearing pumping house prices, but they're not overvalued yet (Jonathan Shapiro, Fairfax)

And: Not your average Joe: Excerpts from the Hockey biography (The Guardian)

MH17: Five-nation 'coalition of the grieving' set to supply forces to secure crash site

"The multinational force is expected to be led by the Dutch, who lost 193 nationals in the bringing down of the plane, while Australia could serve in the deputy role."

Comment: Can the AFP really help in Ukraine? (Andrew Goldsmith and Grant Niemann, Crikey); Abbott has been determined to leave nothing undone in the MH17 tragedy (Michelle Grattan, The Conversation)

Stifling the debate on euthanasia in Australia

"It's clear to me that Medical Board has conducted a trial by media which goes against the rule of law and Australian democracy as we know it."

Backgrounder: Dr Philip Nitschke, voluntary euthanasia's most vocal supporter, still fighting old foes (James Dunlevie, ABC News)

Comment: Philip Nitschke should not be the sole face of the euthanasia movement (Dr Rodney Syme, The Guardian)

Half of working mothers face discrimination at work, study finds

"Led by sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, the study found ‘indisputable evidence’ that discrimination around having children continues to be a ‘widespread and systemic issue which inhibits the full and equal participation of working parents, and in particular, women, in the labour force’."

Also: Workplace still hostile territory for many parents-to-be (Elizabeth Broderick, Fairfax)

And: Lambie, sexism and the problem with men (Clementine Ford, Fairfax)

Detention shame: Children, mothers self-harming

"Asylum seeker children and their families in detention on Christmas Island are plagued by despair and helplessness – and the situation is only deteriorating."

Comment: Boat turnbacks make harsh deterrents pointless (Mike Steketee, The Drum)