DWDACT Bulletin January 2014

At the 2013 Annual General Meeting a number of matters were drawn to our attention that I’d like you to be aware of before next year when they will be circulated as part of the minutes for the next AGM. Following is an edited version of the minutes for your interest.

 I am attaching in this email an application form for membership for this year. Just by having 100 members we were able to improve our financial situation significantly in 2013. We hope that if we can continue in the same direction that we will build our financial position to a point where we can advertise and reach more people.

 I’m also attaching guidelines for you to write about why you have joined DWD and believe in this issue. This year, we want to make a book constructed from the many stories which provide a justification for changing the law. The main target for this book will be Federal and local politicians.

 Jeanne Arthur
President

 Highlights from the 2013 Annual General Meeting

As the federal election approached, the secretary became concerned with the lack of real democratic representation suffered by the residents of federal territories, in particular the people of the ACT where the population now numbers nearly three-quarters that of Tasmania.  The most important handicap is the lack of real legislative power on emerging social issues (marriage equality before the court now being a typical example) but also our under-representation, compared with Tasmanian citizens, in the Commonwealth Parliament. A two-page document prepared for the committee traced the essential historical points, constitutional and legislative.

 The rhetoric of “one vote one value” is universal in Australia, but does not apply to ACT residents except in Assembly elections. In 1972 the federal government signed and in 1980 ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25 of which declares that every citizen shall have “equal suffrage”. ACT enrolled voters equal nearly 75% of the Tasmanian number, but each of our two MHRs must speak for nearly twice the number of electors as do each of the five Tasmanian MHRs.   Each Tasmanian Senator represents some 30,000 voters.   Each of ours represents 130,000.  The Commonwealth has the power to increase our representative entitlement by legislation. Our representatives should develop a case for allocating the ACT three MHRs and three Senators.  

 And, most importantly, federal legislation should in general give our Assembly the powers of the Tasmanian legislature. Tasmanians formalised their independence 112 years ago. There were fewer than 200,000 of them. The present situation is unjust.

 The Publicity Officer, Ailsa Turrell, talked of our website and drew attention to the Face Book page she has created, pointing out it could carry more (and more recent) information than the website.  She encouraged all to visit it.  She has booked a table for the Seniors’ Expo at Epic next year and in general was happy to publicise our work wherever the opportunity occurred, such as to community groups, U3A, and so on. Commercial advertising, even in the Canberra Times, was too expensive.

 Election of office bearers: Having indicated their willingness to continue as committee members, all existing members (Jeanne Arthur, Ailsa Turrell, Clive Monty, Jack White and Ian Hughes) were nominated, as was Roderick Kidston. Nevertheless we are anxious to include more members on the committee. If you are interested please write to the PO Box or contact us through the website. The work involved is really only about twenty hours of your time per year, perhaps the equivalent of a week’s work if you get heavily involved.

 General Business: A number of members raised concerns about end-of-life practices in the ACT health system, mainly concerning attitudes to Advanced Health Care directives in hospitals.  Noel Atcherley suggested that we have another general meeting dedicated to ACT’s AHC Directives. Our visiting speaker, Mary Porter MLA, offered to trace the relevant legislative wording and forward the information to our president.  Jeanne pointed out that since 1996 doctors in the ACT had been largely protected by law if their treatment resulted in the death of a patient. The medical profession itself needs educating about AHCDs.  Ailsa suggested that HCCA ACT may be the best pathway for that.

 Our guest speaker, Mary Porter, AM MLA, member for Ginninderra, (who came accompanied by her assistant Tim Petherem) addressed the meeting, stating at the outset that for our population and responsibilities, ACT residents were represented in the Assembly by too few elected representatives.

 Her recent study trip to Europe had been specifically to investigate end-of-life issues, particularly the legislation, regulation and practice of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. She did this in Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium, speaking with some 40 people including ethicists, lawyers, medical practitioners, specialists, senior health members of NGOs as well as former politicians. She spoke with opponents and supporters of current practices in those countries, and was made aware of the long history before and after the implementation of their legislation.

 In Switzerland, many more enquire about the services of the NGOs Exit or Dignitas than actually use them. Dignitas will help non-Swiss, but Exit maintains other countries should be responsible for their own citizens. The amended Swiss penal code allows assistance to those whose condition is not terminal but who suffer incurable unbearable suffering, and where those assisting have no personal gain.

 The Netherlands and Belgium have similar legislation and regulations.   The applicant’s condition must be incurable, be acutely suffering and be of sound mind.  The clinically depressed, mentally ill or suffering Alzheimer’s or dementia, and minors, are excluded. For example, the Dutch medical association informs its members that they do not need to honour the advanced directives of patients who ask that they be assisted to die when they can no long recognise their relatives.

 No doctor is obliged to approve a request, but in that case they should refer the patient to another doctor.  A GP who decides an applicant patient fits the criteria must refer the patient to another for a second opinion from a doctor who does not already know the patient.

 In the Netherlands a medical group called SCEN, specially selected and trained doctors, are contracted to provide this service voluntarily, i.e. unpaid, for two weeks a year for five years.  Regional review panels comprising a doctor, lawyer and an ethicist review each case.   In Belgium one large review panel does the same.  In Switzerland all cases are reviewed by the Chief Prosecutor, who Mary Porter met.  All cases are also referred to the Coroner.  There have been referrals for investigation but no prosecutions.

 In the Netherlands and Belgium palliative care is well resourced as part of the continuum of health care.  Mary visited a day hospice in Belgium which offers voluntary euthanasia but which is a regular happy venue for numerous activities like IT, painting, cooking, music, drama, and provides remedial massage, counselling and other support.

 There are now mobile clinics for those who have difficulty in accessing a doctor.  

 In those countries, too, there are some moves to liberalise the categories qualifying for VE assistance, and to remove it from the control of doctors.

 Enacting VE in the ACT or NT is currently prevented by the federal private member bill initiated by Kevin Andrews after the success of the earlier NT Act.  Mary Porter is undertaking further research on the problem and is planning a ‘stakeholder’ forum in the near future.

 The meeting thanked the speaker enthusiastically. 

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