Tireless Australian euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke is a persevering man.
When he finally succeeded with the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1995, it was fairly swiftly removed courtesy of a private members bill by current front-bencher Kevin Andrews.
And more than fifteen years later, Dr Nitschke is still looking for ways to end people’s lives in a way he says is humane.
I have heard him speak on a few occasions and talked to him briefly not long ago. He is a hard campaigner, but perhaps the battle is taking its toll.
Dr Nitschke recently showed the sort of optimism displayed by state Labor leaders before the recent polls. The desperation was tangible, the logic crazy.
He applied to Fiji for an Australian off-shore euthanasia clinic.
His dream of an Australian equivalent to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where 1000 people have died (supposedly voluntarily) since 1998, was in the form of a haven of assisted suicide in the tropics.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s cartoonist Wilcox lampooned the idea with a drawing of a “Final Rest” euthanasia resort, featuring a Fijian about to drop a coconut on an old woman lying by the beach.
It’s just a pity for Dr Nitschke that his zeal prevents him from seeing the obvious.
There was no way that Fiji was ever going to entertain a proposal for a euthanasia clinic in Fiji. He would have had more luck proposing to move Guantanamo Bay detention camp to Caracas.
Why? Because Fiji, like the rest of the Pacific, despite the fact they have more health issues and poorer levels of health care than Australia and New Zealand, seriously value all human life.
A Fijian told me recently that Fiji has a different approach to western countries regarding the aged. He said all Fijians, regardless of their religious beliefs, have a strong cultural value on life.
He said there are no such things as nursing homes for old people, because they are mainly taken care of in the home and village, unless hospitalisation is required. It is all part of honouring their elderly and thanking them for looking after them when they were young.
Australian and New Zealand politicians looking at euthanasia proposals could perhaps learn from the wise words of a Fiji villager.
In Fiji, the elderly are highly respected, but they are also made to feel valued. This villager’s comments echoed those spoken on the airways in New Zealand recently, when two palliative care specialists were asked for their reactions to daft and uninformed comments about euthanasia by the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
The President of the Fiji Medical Association Dr James Fong told Radio New Zealand the association did not even have a policy on euthanasia due to a lack of demand for it within Fiji. They reported, “Dr James Fong says there are logistical issues to say nothing of the ethical problems with euthanasia.”
But what also startling is that some Australian media said Fiji was considering the proposal, despite no confirmation from the Fijian Government, showing some media are keen to jump on Nitschke’s bandwagon of optimistic death-seeking.
Fiji’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information Sharon Smith-Johns told Fiji media there were no plans at all, and that Australian media had not contacted them for comment.
All Nitschke received was a standard letter the Government sends to anyone who contacts them with a proposal – a simple request for more information, which he showed to the Fairfax journalist.
His proposal probably hadn’t gone past the desk of the first bureaucrat in the Attorney-General’s chambers.
But the Fairfax papers said it was “on the agenda for Fiji” and they quoted Nitschke as saying the developing country could generate ”considerable income” from a clinic.
And this is where the more sinister element in the issue lies.
Fiji is a developing country struggling to find sources of income. It has also been run by a very small group of unelected people with considerable power since the 2006 coup.
Changing a law is a fairly simple thing for them to do. They have enacted plenty of decrees since taking over.
But Nitschke denied both charges of taking advantage of Fiji’s situation in a fairly sympathetic interview with Radio Australia.
He has since said the Fiji Government has changed its story and is running for cover over the backlash, and he will try other Pacific islands for their response.
He told Radio Australia that the so-called “positive” response from Fiji “might reflect the change in attitudes, not just in the South Pacific, but probably around the world.”
Hopefully after testing the Pacific waters once and failing, he might drop the desperation to encourage people to die. The Pacific culture could offer him a good lesson on how to make the elderly and infirm feel their worth.
But that’s not likely with Dr Nitschke. He is a persevering man.