An open letter to Geoff Bullock, Family Voice Australia – on voluntary euthanasia

Important note: This post refers to Geoff Bullock of Family Voice Australia. It does not refer to the Australian songwriter of the same name.

Dear Geoff

You may recall that at the recent Your Death, Your Choice forum in Maroochydore we had a particularly animated discussion on voluntary euthanasia, during which I promised to send you evidence of my claim that your pronouncement on involuntary euthanasia was not only false, but mischievous. (OK, I said ‘evil’, not mischievous.)

You may be surprised and discomfited that rather than replying to you privately, I have chosen to do so publicly. Let me explain my reasons.

I took some time to debate the ethics of this in my own mind. Ultimately, I determined that it was fair for the following reasons:

  1. You are not just a private citizen, you are a senior member of a political lobby group.
  2. In asking me to contact you, you did not hand me a private card – you handed me your political lobbyist’s business card.
  3. You made your statement in a public forum. It seems fair that my response should also be public.
  4. Writing, researching and editing this response has taken me three days – because I care about proper research and accuracy. I know intuitively that you will reject every piece of evidence presented to you in this letter or, if you deign to accept that I am right on this one point, you will scurry away to find other things from the Christian blog-o-sphere that seem to suggest that voluntary euthanasia is dangerous/evil/out-of-control/about to bring in Nazi-style eugenics/will result in little old ladies being knocked off for the inheritance, etc.

In other words, I know that writing to you privately is almost certainly a complete and utter waste of my time. I might borrow from the Bible and say ‘casting pearls before swine’ , but that would be unkind.

So, Geoff, this letter isn’t really for you. It’s to expose people like you and it’s to inform people who may come into contact with people like you that Christians are not always to be believed. They do not always represent “The Truth” as one might expect. In fact, sometimes, Christians stand up in public forums, misrepresent their level of expertise and spew out a great deal of absolute nonsense on subjects about which they know very little.

That is why I am writing this letter; not with any faint hope that you have any genuine interest in “The Truth”.

So, let’s get down to specifics. At the Your Death, Your Choice forum you stood up in a forum of around 200 people and declared that after voluntary euthanasia was legalized in The Netherlands, the rate of involuntary euthanasia increased.

When you were told by a number of experts that this was completely untrue, you insisted that you had researched this, giving the impression that you, yourself, were some kind of authority.

After the forum, you will recall that I challenged you. You see, Geoff I have researched the academic literature on voluntary euthanasia. I don’t claim to be an expert – that would take years – but I’ve spent months on it, researching, reading, writing, speaking to doctors and nurses and to those whose loved ones have suffered because people like you pollute the public debate with lies, misinformation and propaganda.

You may care to read some of my articles:

Activist Dead Wrong on Voluntary Euthanasia (written with Dr David Leaf)

The Debate on Assisted Dying: Distortion, Misinformation and the Influence of the Religious Lobby (for DWD NSW)

Take Control of Your Own Death Before It’s Too Late

I knew you had not done your research because:

a) what you were saying was bollocks and

b) I had actually read the reports whose findings you were so blatantly misrepresenting.

I promised I would send you the evidence which contradicts what you said at the forum and you assured me that you were only interested in “The Truth”. I doubt this is true, Geoff. I suspect that you are only interested in “The Truth” when it accords with your narrow, Biblical world-view. When it challenges that view, it seems you are quite happy to opt for the lies and misinformation which appear to support it.

Let me begin by telling you what Dutch academics, John Griffiths (Emeritus Professor of Sociology of Law), Heleen Weyers (Lecturer in Legal Theory) and Maurice Adams (Professor of Law) have to say about how academic research on voluntary euthanasia in The Netherlands is distorted by those with ideological agendas.

“Imprecision, exaggeration, suggestion and innuendo, misinterpretation and misrepresentation, ideological ipsedixitism, and downright lying and slander (not to speak of bad manners) have taken the place of careful analysis of the problem and consideration of the Dutch evidence.”

Make no mistake, they’re talking about you and yours. Yes, Geoff, unwittingly you identified yourself as one of those base religionists to whom ideology is more important than the facts. That’s how I picked you out as ‘religious’ at the Your Death, Your Choice forum. You checked all the boxes.

I hope you have the grace to be embarrassed by the fact you can be so easily identified as a fundamentalist Christian because your public pronouncements (and not just those at the YDYC forum) fit the description given above.

I didn’t even need to meet you to know you were a Christian, but you confirmed the type of Christianity even before you gave me your business card. Do you know how ?

When I asked you directly if you had done your research from a ‘religious’ perspective you spluttered, “I’m not going to tell you that! That’s irrelevant!”

Strange, isn’t it, that when I asked directly if you were coming from a religious perspective you repeatedly refused to confirm it. A bit like Peter’s denial of Jesus, isn’t it Geoff?

As several people have said to me, “Why didn’t he just say, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian, and that’s why the truth is important to me!’?”

But I know why. I’ve become very familiar with fundamentalist Christians trying to hide their religious affiliations in order to seem more authoritative. It’s why your political lobby group is called “Family Voice” instead of a more transparent “Christian Voice”. It’s why the Family First Party isn’t called the God First Party and it’s why Doctors for the Family isn’t called “Doctors willing to make shit up for Jesus”.

All those names would be far more accurate, but you guys aren’t about truth and accuracy are you, Geoff? It’s all about ‘spin’.

“Don’t make it obvious we’re coming from a religious perspective – no-one will believe us!”

Isn’t that a sorry indictment of the depths to which fundamentalism has brought Christianity?

The thing is, Geoff, you know and I know, the moment you admit you’re a Christian – especially a Christian of a certain conservative, fundamentalist type – your credibility is shot.

Why?

Because your lot are doing such a fabulous job of destroying the reputation of your religion by trying to prop up the unsupportable, widely debunked rationales for your narrow minded prejudices with a world-wide litany of: ‘“Imprecision, exaggeration, suggestion and innuendo, misinterpretation and misrepresentation, ideological ipsedixitism, and downright lying and slander (not to speak of bad manners)” – and not just on voluntary euthanasia!

Research, Geoff, is not reading Bill Muehlenberg’s blog and stopping by at a few other Christian websites.

You may not have picked this up when you were doing your unaccredited licentiate in theology (Th.L) at the Australian College of Theology, Geoff, but to call what you did, ‘research’ is either blatant misrepresentation or pitiful self-delusion. (I fear that, in your case, because you did seem like a very nice man, it’s the latter.)

Nevertheless, you are an adult in a position of authority and you have to take responsibility for your words. You also have to take responsibility for those you associate with.

Too often your co-religionists stand up and utter absolute rot and are never held to account. You, Geoff – nice as you may be – are today’s sacrificial lamb.

Christopher James Ryan MBBS, FRANZCP (note the post-nominals, Geoff – just a tad more authoritative than ThL, CDec) has this to say about the slippery slope meme you so artlessly invoked at the Your Death, Your Choice forum:

“The slippery slope does not try to argue its case by drawing conclusions from carefully constructed premises, nor does it rely upon a systematic review of empirical evidence. Any sort of formal argument for the slope’s predictions would be quickly bogged down in detail and uncertainty …

Those who make use of the slippery slope … do not concern themselves with [empirical evidence]. They do not need to because, the slippery slope is not really an argument at all.

Rather, it is a stern and knowing warning – an ethical “beware the Ides of March”.

The slippery slope is what Daniel Dennett has termed an intuition pump. Intuition pumps bypass the uncertain and exhausting path of convincing readers with careful and detailed argument in favour of a more easily travelled byway that speeds readers to a conclusion based upon their gut feeling. Intuition pumps replace argument with slogans and telling images. They are designed to convince readers of the truth of what they already suspected.

Although intuition pumps do not depend upon empirical evidence, they will utilise such facts as are available to further their cause.”

In simpler terms, the ‘slippery slope’ argument, much beloved of fundamentalist Christians, makes you look rather like Henny Penny in the children’s story.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” she clucks frantically, and is soon joined in her panic by all her friends, who never think to ask if her interpretation of the ‘evidence’ is sound.

Of course, Henny Penny and her friends met a rather gruesome end. Gullibility is unsustainable in the long term.

This is a bit long-winded, I know, and it gets worse. But I really want you to understand what a very, very bad reputation you fundamentalist Christians have in the mainstream world where “The Truth” you say you so ardently seek is defined as ‘that which is’ not ‘that which one wants to believe’.

You are entitled to your own opinion, Geoff. You are not entitled to your own facts*. Facts are things which are independent of what you’d ‘like to believe’. They are not things which can or should be reformulated in order to be shoe-horned into your narrow ideology.

One of the academics at the conference sought me out after the forum and said to me, “You know, there are some people who will never be convinced by evidence.”

They had you summed up, too.

I said, “I know.”

Another expert on voluntary euthanasia emailed me, warning me about wasting my time on “fruitcakes you are never EVER going to convince.”

I said, “I know.”

They are both right. Sad to say, I could drive up to your house today with a semi-trailer full of academic research which confirms that, where voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide has been legalised it is operating safely and efficiently with widespread community support (80 per cent in the Netherlands, for instance). I could bring with me a bus load of experts from medicine, science and academia to say– as the experts told you on Saturday – there is no ‘slippery slope’. You would still not believe what they told you, because it conflicts with your religious convictions.

Your ‘research’ into voluntary euthanasia was so poor that you didn’t even realise the ‘evidence’ you were parroting is a gross misrepresentation of a statistic from the Remmelink Report, published in 1991. You hadn’t even heard of Remmelink!

Remmelink has been superseded by two major research projects, commissioned by the Dutch government – both of which follow the format of Remmelink. I suspect you didn’t stumble across them in your research, either, Geoff.

But, first, let’s get our terms right.

You stated that your research showed that the incidence of involuntary euthanasia increased in The Netherlands after euthanasia was legalised. I suspect that what you were talking about was non-voluntary euthanasia also known as ‘euthanasia without explicit request’. Basic research would have clarified this for you, but you will find the two terms commonly used interchangeably on Christian websites.

Voluntary euthanasia means a patient has explicitly asked a doctor to help them end their life and that this request has been properly formalised with all the appropriate paperwork.

Non-voluntary euthanasia means that a doctor, almost always in consultation with her colleagues and the patient’s family, makes the sad decision that the best thing for the terminal patient is to hasten their death. This doesn’t mean the patient was never consulted about their wishes. It may simply mean that their wishes were not formally recorded and, at the time of their death, they were not in a position to confirm their request.

There is certainly an argument for tightening up administrative practices – but it is a long way from suggesting a patient has been killed against their will.

Have you ever considered why it might be impossible to gain the consent of the patient at the time a lethal dose of medication is administered?

Perhaps the disease has progressed too far, perhaps the patient is brain damaged, perhaps they suffer from some kind of ‘locked in’ syndrome like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), or perhaps the patient is a child or a baby who cannot practically give consent for themselves. The patient may well have spoken to their family or doctor previously about their wishes, but if their wishes were not filled out on the appropriate forms, their death will be recorded as ‘without explicit request’.

Involuntary euthanasia occurs only when a terminal patient has explicitly said, “I do not want to receive assistance in dying” and the doctor proceeds to hasten their death against their will; or, when a doctor decides to kill someone whose death is not imminent and who has not expressed a wish to have their death hastened. In every country and jurisdiction where voluntary euthanasia is legal, this is, if proven, a criminal offence attracting a jail term.

The Remmelink Report, is the foundation report for research into euthanasia. Undertaken in 1990, it is, of course, now way out of date. But, as a document against which we can measure the trajectory of voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia, it is invalauble.

It is important to note that the Remmelink study was undertaken before voluntary euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands. (Up until then, voluntary euthanasia was tolerated under certain circumstances but was not yet legal.)

Even taking all this into account it is absolutely untrue to say that the Remmelink Commission found widespread involuntary or even non-voluntary euthanasia. In fact, the Remmelink Commission found no cases of involuntary euthanasia in the Netherlands during the period of their review. None. Not one.

It did find (and this is where all the Henny Pennys and Turkey-Lurkeys start clucking and gobbling!) 1000 cases where a doctor deliberately ended the life of a patient without a clear and explicit request from the patient. This represented 0.8 per cent of all deaths.

Yes, it’s a tiny, tiny percentage isn’t it? I wonder if you knew how small this figure was as a percentage of total deaths before you stood up and spruiked about all the research you’d done, Geoff?

But still, 1000 people killed against their will! That’s barbaric!

But this was not involuntary euthanasia, Geoff. It was non-voluntary euthanasia.

Ryan (1998) provides some important clarifying information on these 1000 cases of non-voluntary euthanasia (please remember, this figure is not current, it reflects the situation in The Netherlands two decades ago, before VE was fully legal):

“[Remmelink’s] detailed analysis of the instances of life terminating acts without explicit request revealed that in 59% of cases the physician did have information about the patient’s wishes through discussion with the patient and/or a previous request. In all other cases discussion with the patient was no longer possible. In 86% of cases life was shortened by a few hours or a day at most and no instances of involuntary euthanasia were discovered.

So, Geoff, while technicaly, 1000 deaths are categorized as ‘without explicit request’, the wishes of 590 of those patients were known to their physician. They were not killed against their wishes, they were euthanized in accordance with their wishes.

But what of the other 410?

Let’s jump forward to Agnes van der Heide’s (and colleagues) 2007 follow-up on Remmelink, because she clearly sets out how we might understand this category of euthanasia ‘without explicit request’.

Van der Heide tells us that, in 2007, requests were not received from 10.4 per cent of the patients because ‘they were unconscious’ and in 15.3 per cent of cases there were ‘other factors’ which made an explicit request impossible. A further 14.4 per cent of patients were unable to give consent because they were children or babies – their parents gave consent on their behalf. In 80.9 per cent of cases, the decision to hasten death was discussed with the patient’s relatives. In 65.3 per cent of cases, the decision was made in consultation with other health professionals.

In other words, Geoff, euthanasia ‘without explicit request’ does not mean involuntary euthanasia, nor does it necessarily even mean the patient was not consulted or that their views were not taken into account.

But, my goodness cry all the Henny Pennys! Why would someone’s family want to hasten the death of a loved one – unless, of course, there were nefarious motives. Rushing to reap the rewards of a rich aunt’s will, perhaps?

Sanctimoniously, Geoff, you, yourself have written on Bill Muehlenberg’s blog that ‘the sanctity of life is far more important than the quality of life’.

Have you ever seen how a cancer patient’s life might end, Geoff? Where is the sanctity in a beautiful young woman, in the final hours of her life, uncontrollably vomiting faeces from her mouth?

If it were your daughter or wife, would you be piously prattling about the wonderful ‘dignity’ and ‘sanctity’ of her last hours?

What would be most compassionate, Geoff; to leave her in her indignity, or for her loved ones and her doctor to consult and decide that the kindest thing to do, what she would have wanted, would be to hasten her inevitable and imminent death?

What of an old man with uncontrollable gangrene in his foot? Would you have been able to wax lyrical about the sanctity of his life as he lay in a palliative care ward for months begging to be released from his suffering as the gangrene, slowly and excruciatingly spread, rotting him to death?

If I was angry with you on Saturday, Geoff, I was not as angry as I should have been, because these are the kinds of people I was speaking up for. These are the kinds of people who continue to suffer because, what is more important to you and other anti-euthanasia lobbyists is that terminally ill patients, with their own views on what is right for them, should be required to abide by YOUR particular view of what is right and what is wrong. Who died and made you God, Geoff?

It’s not enough, for you, is it Geoff, that you could refuse to have your own death hastened?

No! God-like, you seek to push your views on to others – lobbying your little heart out without even stopping to think of the suffering your stance causes, or the possibility that you might be wrong. Without even bothering, I may add, to spend the time doing some accurate, unbiased research.

But, it is inconceivable to you that you may be wrong, there is no need for you to do any serious research into the rubbish you’ve read on Christian websites. You just take it as ‘read’.

As a senior member of a Christian lobby group I don’t doubt you’ve made similar representations to polticians on euthanasia, on abortion, on stem-cell research, on homosexuality – in the firm conviction that you’ve ‘researched’ them.

Sadly, like Henny Penny’s followers, they probably believed what you told them – a Christian wouldn’t lie or misrepresent their level of expertise, would they, Geoff?

Since Remmelink, there have been two, major, official and widely accepted peer-reviewed reports which you don’t seem to have stumbled across in your ‘research’ on voluntary euthanasia. They are:

Van der Maas et al (1996) “Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and Other Medical Practices Involving the End of Life in the Netherlands, 1990–1995”, New England Journal of Medicine.

And, as previously mentioned:

Van der Heide et al (2007), “End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act”, New England Journal of Medicine.

Both of these are available on the internet for anybody who takes a modicum of interest in reading the actual key source documents for research into voluntary euthanasia in The Netherlands.

If you had bothered to read these reports, Geoff, you would have found that van der Maas makes it very clear that:

“Further scrutiny of the case histories in the interview study showed that decisions to end life without the patient’s request covered a wide range of situations, with a large group of patients having only a few hours or days to live, whereas a small number had a longer life expectancy but were evidently suffering greatly, with verbal contact no longer possible.

In other words, van der Maas and his colleagues didn’t just jump to the uninformed conclusion that you did. They took the time to ask, “What are the particular circumstances of these patients whose deaths were hastened without explicit request? Is there a reasonable explanation why this was done?”

Having done this, van der Maas and his researchers found no cause for alarm. The sky was not falling.

Not only that, when comparing the numbers of cases categorised as ‘without explicit request’ with the Remmelink Report, they found, “The frequency of cases in which life was ended without an explicit request by the patient has decreased somewhat since 1990.”

In the second follow-up report (2007), van der Heide confirms that deaths ‘without explicit request’ further decreased from 0.7 per cent in 2001 to 0.4 per cent in 2004 – a factor of almost 50 per cent.

Euthanasia ‘without explicit request’ did not rise after voluntary euthanasia was legalised in The Netherlands, Geoff, it was reduced, significantly. And all the clucking, and gobbling and quacking of fundamentalist Christians is not going to change that fact. It’s established (although you will never accept that because you just don’t want it to be true!)

This lays to rest the ‘slippery slope’ argument in terms of euthanasia ‘without explicit request’.

Van der Heide also found that, rather than escalating, the overall number of deaths due to voluntary euthanasia decreased slightly. Legalising euthanasia did not lead to an explosion of euthanasia deaths – either with or without explicit request.

I know this is long, and I apologise to my regular readers – but not to Geoff who has probably long, since left us. I must continue as there is more that needs to be said on this subject.

The charge is that legalising euthanasia is what leads to a high incidence of involuntary or non-voluntary euthanasia. It’s implied that legalising euthanasia is the causative factor; that whatever is happening prior to legalisation, will inevitably get worse afterwards. Again, studies have shown this charge to be completely unfounded.

A 1997 comparative study by Helga Kuhse et al found that, in Australia, 1.8 per cent of deaths were the result of voluntary euthanasia – the same rate as in the Netherlands. According to this study, euthanasia occurs at more or less the same rate whether it is legal or not.

While voluntary euthanasia was not yet formally legal in the Netherlands in 1997, the Dutch Supreme Court had ruled three years earlier that it was acceptable, provided doctors followed strict guidelines. So, the comparison here is between the Netherlands, which had a ‘high tolerance’ for voluntary euthanasia, and Australia, where it was then and is now, uncompromisingly illegal.

This (and other similar studies) tells us that, in countries where voluntary euthanasia is illegal, it is being performed anyway – with and without ‘explicit request’.

But, here is the difference that you and your fellow anti-euthanasia propagandists ignore, Geoff. Where voluntary euthanasia is not legal, it is being performed without regulation. You heard that for yourself at the Your Death, Your Choice forum. If you’re ‘in the know’ you can make a phone call to a doctor who ‘does that sort of thing’ (on the ‘sly’ of course) and get him to pop over and ‘oblige’. (Please note, I am not suggesting the obliging doctor would agree to this for just anyone. My point is that that because voluntary euthanasia is illegal, they have to make an assessment on only their own judgment.)

Is that really what you want, Geoff? Because that is what your opposition to regulated voluntary euthanasia is perpetuating.

Let’s continue.

Kuhse et al found that, in Australia, cases where the patient’s life was ended without their explicit request comprised 3.5% of all deaths – around 5 or 6 times the number in the Netherlands. Overall, they found, “Australia had a higher rate of intentional ending of life without the patient’s request than the Netherlands.”

Speaking of Kuhse’s research, Ryan confirms that:

“If the slippery slope were a reflection of reality, the rate of non-voluntary euthanasia in Australia should have been lower than that in the Netherlands. The results indicated that exactly the opposite was true. The rate of non-voluntary euthanasia in Australia was 3.5% (+_0.8%), far higher than the 0.8% and 0.7% reported in the two Dutch studies.”

And this holds for other countries as well. A comparative survey, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal explains that:

“Opponents of euthanasia often argue that legalizing the procedure will lead to a rise in the use of life-ending drugs without a patient’s explicit request, especially in vulnerable patient groups. Thus far, however, no indications of this have been found in studies of physician-assisted deaths before and after legalization in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Belgium, the percentage of deaths in which life-ending drugs were used remained stable, and the proportion without an explicit request from the patient decreased.

Other studies have shown that euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and the use of life-ending drugs without explicit patient request are not confined to countries where physician-assisted death is legal.”

Let me just hammer this home Geoff (in case you’re still with me and didn’t stomp off disgusted at the point I said “making shit up for Jesus”).

Credible studies from expert researchers, published in mainstream academic journals, show the rate of non-voluntary euthanasia tends to be significantly higher in countries where it is illegal (e.g. Australia) than in the countries where laws were more liberal (e.g. The Netherlands and Belgium).

The myth that legalising euthanasia causes high rates of non-voluntary euthanasia has been thoroughly debunked; but, of course, that doesn’t stop anti-euthanasia propagandists from trotting it out as ‘evidence’ of the non-existent ‘slippery slope’.

Let me stress this point. Voluntary euthanasia is already happening in Australian hospitals and nursing homes. It happens unregulated, unsupervised and without reporting procedures. Is this what you want, Geoff?

“Do you know how many vials of morphine are ‘accidentally’ broken at 3am in the morning in Catholic nursing homes?” a GP asked me recently.

Legalization brings in stringent procedures and safeguards. It requires multiple checks to ensure that the patient is competent and not being coerced. Such rigour is not possible if the doctor or nurse has to administer the lethal injection alone, and in the dead of night, to avoid conviction.

Because politicians buy the misinformation put about by people like you, Geoff, people are being euthanised without any checks or balances – and often without their explicit request. Not because euthanasia is legal, but because it’s not legal!

Some, who aren’t confident they’ll find someone to euthanize them shoot themselves in the head, or hang themselves, or take an overdose of drugs at home – subjecting their family to criminal investigations.

That’s what happens without legalization. So, if compassion for human suffering and reducing the incidence of euthanasia ‘without explicit request’ is really your concern, may I suggest you should be campaigning for legalization because that is what will reduce both of those things.

But, that’s not your real concern, is it Geoff? No, your only concern is to push your narrow religious view onto the rest of us, through legislation, regardless of the consequences.

I have written a great deal on this. Much more than I expect you will read. But I promised you evidence and I always keep my promises. I promised you “The Truth” and I have supplied it; not a truth biased by ideology, but the kind of truth that comes from proper research and critical analysis.

What you represented at the Your Death, Your Choice forum, Geoff was ideologically biased delusion. Whether you knew that or not is really not important, because you have adopted this as a ‘way of thinking’ and that is your responsibility.

I can see from your comments on the internet, that you don’t confine your ideological bias to euthanasia. You make the same mistake in formulating your views and policies on abortion, homosexuality, same-sex parenting, stem-cell research and a host of other issues. Have you ‘researched’ them, too, Geoff?

What is important is that your ideological bias compels you to be dishonest. You have to get the facts to fit your world view.

If this only affected you, I’d say, “Fair enough.”

But it’s not “fair enough” because this kind of chicanery has real life consequences. It hurts people – badly. It ruins lives. It causes suicides. It is not based on a genuine desire to help people and make their lives better, it is based on a hubristic desire to prove that your Biblical world-view is right – no matter what the real truth might be.

Chrys Stevenson

If you’ve been moved or inspired by this article, please join the fight to legalize voluntary euthanasia in Australia.

The most effective thing you can do is join a lobby group in your own state or territory – you can find them here.

If you are independently wealthy, or happen to have a ‘little bit to play with’, please consider making a donation to any of these organisations.

If you are updating your will (I assume you have a will, don’t you???) please consider leaving a bequest to Dying with Dignity. It may not help you, but it may help your loved ones.

And, finally, it is important to note that I speak independently, and not on behalf of Dying with Dignity or Palliative Care Queensland which hosted the Your Death, Your Choice forum at which Mr Bullock and I clashed. My opinions are entirely my own.

However, I would urge you to also look at the magnificent work that Palliative Care organisations do in your state and understand that they are grossly underfunded – particularly in Queensland which, we were told, “is one of the worst places to die in Australia”. If you can manage a donation to Palliative Care, please do so. Here are the links.

*While I’d love to claim it as my own, the statement “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts” must be attributed to its originator, US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (Thanks to Hilton Travis for finding the origin of the quote.)

54 thoughts on “An open letter to Geoff Bullock, Family Voice Australia – on voluntary euthanasia

  1. rigbyte

    Chrys, you are superb. Well done. So many important points, such riotous rhetoric.
    I like this: – “You are entitled to your own opinion, Geoff. You are not entitled to your own facts.” I hope you posted this on his website.

    Reply
  2. Lucas James

    I think the reason the fundies are so afraid of the “slippery slope” is that they’ve been using it to get their doctrine enshrined in law over the last few decades, and don’t want the law to “slip” back to a more reasoned basis.

    Reply
  3. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a

    Wonderfully said !!

    I look forward to hearing his reply.

    do you care to share his email address so others can communicate with him or would that be a step too far ?

    Would it be worthwhile asking if he is interested to meet with other supporters of euthanasia so he can hear the real stories and what the real research is ?

    Reply
  4. Louella

    Powerful, passionate writing. The public debate may be polluted by the likes of Geoff Bullock, but you’re an expert on pollution-monitoring, containment and clean-up. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Jim McDonald

    A clear exposition of honest research, Chrys. You wrote, “You are entitled to your own opinion, Geoff. You are not entitled to your own facts.” And that is so well put. I would add that opinion that ignores research, that promotes ignorance, that supports an agenda by distorting facts and outright denial of inconvenient truths is malicious and unethical and will damn you to hell…..🙂

    There are four choices: deciding to accept treatment, deciding to not accept treatment, deciding to end your life before the condition takes its awful course [& I think it is useful to distinguish between “suicide” and the special circumstance of someone facing suffering and pain], and someone else’s decision to murder a person who has not decided to end it.

    The slippery slope argument ignores the legal remedies for homicide that exist in any case. It also ignores the right of any person to a gentle, dignified and easy death where the medical means are available [The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines euthanasia as “A gentle and easy death”].

    And what part of “choice” and “voluntary” don’t opponents understand? One anti-euthanasia lobbyist based in South Australia, Paul Russell, Director of HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide, wrote to me during the election when I chided him for omitting “choice” and “voluntary” from his prejudicial “questionnaire”: ” I do not accept that the word ‘choice’ or ‘voluntary’ are necessary inclusions to make this survey valid.” Says it all really….

    As Bob Brown put it: “Dying with dignity can only be ensured by allowing the individual to be in control – not by that troubled, obsessive minority which advocates leaving people to suffer.”

    Reply
  6. Duke

    By Zeus I’m glad to have stumbled on to your site Chrys. Rigorous, punchy stuff. You capture the psychology of the christian fundamentalist mindset so very accurately.

    A large part of it is about asserting power over others and feeling powerful – god’s policemen and parking inspectors writing tickets and issuing fines.

    As you said, we wouldn’t mind so much if they kept the ‘inerrant truth’ and it’s ancilliary moral code/s to themselves but because they want personal faith to form the basis of public policy, we must be vigilant and strident. Your voice is a strong one and I am grateful for your ongoing pushback against zealotry and the anti enlightenment hucksters that (seem to be) increasingly polluting the political and social conversation.

    Keep up the good work!
    Duke

    Reply
  7. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a

    I am reminded of the high profile case of the brain dead woman in America who’s family won the legal right to remove care and end her life.

    Though this woman had no brain function at all a “Christian witness” told the media she clearly said the word “Jesus” just before dying.

    None of the attending medical profesionals heard her say this only the concerned Christian observers.

    Reply
  8. palmboy

    I can imagine the time you put into researching and writing this superb article Chrys. Yes the old slippery slope argument coming out once again – how tiring that has become.

    I love your description of the “Doctors willing to make shit up for Jesus” – and you could substitute the word doctors for dozens of other occupations and it would still be equally correct.

    I can just imagine all the Henny Pennys and Turkey-Lurkeys clucking, gobbling and quacking after reading your blog – LOVE IT !!!

    Reply
  9. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a

    “Do you know how many vials of morphine are ‘accidentally’ broken at 3am in the morning in Catholic nursing homes?” a GP asked me recently.
    ====================================================================

    I have a friend who is a night nurse in a catholic hospital she has a working nickname of the angel of death as she is not afraid to administer sufficient morphine to stop the pain in terminally ill patients.

    As she said there is not that much dignity in a conscious person with all their faculties and a gut obstruction from inoperable cancer vomiting up their own feces.

    She also says priests and families rarely see things like this as nursing staff clean the shit up before they arrive.

    Reply
  10. Abbie Noiraude

    I am so grateful for your patience, your time, your research, your passion, your desire to tell the real Truth and you amazing ability to keep us rivetted throughout your beautifully written ‘letter’.
    Thank you for giving the argument against the ‘Slippery Slope’. I have never been able to argue calmly, that propostion.
    Thank you for this important piece of researched information and the ‘sock-it-to-em’ tone.
    I read it out loud. My man and I are both supporters of VE and hope that it is only a matter of time before the law puts this one to bed ( along with equality in marriage, stem cell research and all the other favourite soap boxes of the “Good Christian folk’ like to rant against).

    Love reading your work.

    It should be read aloud in a huge hall….like at a TED lecture.

    It deserves nothing short of being spoken from the hilltops of reason.

    Reply
  11. nickandrew

    Another wonderful article, Chrys.

    One errata: “patient’s death was ended” should say “life”, not “death”.

    Reply
  12. Mike

    “It should be read aloud in a huge hall….like at a TED lecture.”

    I’d go one further – this damned well should BE a TED lecture. Rarely have I seen one side of an argument so comprehensively put, and the other so completely debunked.

    Reply
  13. Denise Sauer

    How absolutely terrific that you have been able to publicly tell it like it was. I was there at the forum and only felt disgust at that gentleman!!!! and his use of IN voluntary euthanasia. Truly he has a small rigid mind. The trouble is that, that sort of individual doesn’t believe in My Life My Choice but rather My Life His Way ONLY.
    You are my hero girl. Denise

    Reply
  14. Pingback: Time to think about dying …. « Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

  15. dandare2050

    I nursed my uncle through the last 48 hours of his life. My mum and aunt were there but they were pretty useless, beside themselves with grief and despair. The family doctor did all he could to let him die with dignity but that meant not being around, otherwise he would have had to intervene.

    If it had been legal then my uncle would have chosen to go with an injection as soon as he lost consciousness. Instead he was unconscious but obviously in pain for two days. I was holding his hand when he died.

    Thanks for giving Mr Bullock both barrels. I have no sympathy for his position at all.

    Reply
    1. Eva Brych

      I despair Dandare that pollies and others aren’t listening to our experiences, or are, as Chrys says, unmoved. Some of them believe suffering is redemptive. Two of my rels were palliated, sure, but not until they had resorted to starving themselves. One pulled out his feeding tube twice, but didn’t have the knowledge to pull out his drip so he remained hydrated. Then on “sub-lethal” morphine he COULDN’T act or express himself, so I watched his dying for 4 days as his lungs got wet, then I had to “give permission” anyway for his drip to be removed, leaving him to the indignities of the death rattle and the eyes going milky and the mouth filling up with bacteria and fungi, and nobody knowing what he was experiencing. And all this in an ultramodern high-tech hospital.

      Reply
  16. Marshall Perron

    Well done Chrys (again) you certainly did your homework on this one and it paid off. If only we could get some of our wimpy politicians to read your piece.

    Never mind – we will prevail – we have justice truth and compassion on our side.

    Reply
  17. picric

    Well, Chrys, you were right about the misuse of the word “involuntary” where euthanasia is concerned. Pity about all of the ad hominem stuff though. Why don’t you cut down the piece leaving only scholarly points developed and then we could appreciate your response more fully. Abuse is really no substitute for argument. And Mr Perron – everyone says they have “justice truth and compassion” on their side. In the case of you and Chrys it amounts to no more than a secular version of “God is on my side”! What matters is the argument and then we will see who is persuaded.

    Reply
    1. rigbyte

      Picric.
      I imagine you are prepared to give praise where it is due, why therefore shouldn’t tendentious lies from an influential public figure be ridiculed and censured?
      A scholarly, calm response would be in order if Chrys were responding to a scholarly, rational argument. However, when faced with deliberate falsification and misrepresentation of facts served up as scientific argument, then the correct response is mockery. To have responded as you suggest would be to give respect where none is due.
      Mr. Perron’s desire for justice, truth and compassion—human concepts that have specific meanings and observable outcomes, is in no way similar to the invocation of the irrational concept of an invisible superman in the sky.

      Reply
      1. picric

        Well Rigbyte, telling lies and being mistaken are two different things. I have never found ridicule a successful tool in persuading one to the truth of one’s own arguments. It simply turns up the temperature and produces more heat than light. For example, belief in God is not the equivalent to belief in “an invisible superman in the sky”. It is always best to take on the argument of others in its strongest form rather than put up an easily discredited straw man. And the problems with what terms such as “justice, truth and compassion” mean are well canvassed in the philosophical literature both by those who believe in God and those who don’t. It is, of course, quite possible, for example, that both sides of the euthanasia debate are interested in being faithful to these moral values, it is just that they disagree with what these concepts mean or how they are to be applied. I really do no think there is anything to fear in showing respect to those with whom you may not agree or even those with whom you disagree strongly. Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.

  18. Chrys Stevenson

    Oh, enough with the passive aggressive twaddle. Mr Bullock happens to be’mistaken’ on a whole slew of issues- too often for it to be mere coincidence. It’s not a matter of being mistaken – it’s either blatant lying or willful ignorance.

    If Bullock had been some little old lady from the local Anglican church who had heard a rumour and mistakenly thought it was true, of course I’d correct her privately and gently and cut her some slack. Of course people can be mistaken. I make mistakes – some of them public. But, when I find out I have made a factual error I correct it quickly and, if appropriately, publicly. We’re yet to hear a public retraction from Mr Bullock on this issue.

    Bullock does not meet the profile of a well-intentioned but naive private citizen. He blindly accepts the misinformation and propaganda spewed out by the religious right, disseminates it publicly and uses it to try to influence politicians. He uses misinformation to try to impose ‘Christian values’ legislation on me and my family. He obviously does not check his sources, nor does he consider it important to look at any actual academic research. If it fits with his preconceived prejudices it MUST be true.

    In other words, as there is no real evidence or credible research to prop up Mr Bullock’s narrow prejudices, he must turn to ideological propaganda and spin – the last refuge of the pathologically wrong.

    That does not deserve the ‘kid glove treatment’ and he won’t get it from me.

    This kind of anti-intellectual, anti-science tripe is becoming rife and threatens the lives and well-being of all Australians.

    When the major concern of the ‘Christian right’ is to be ‘right’ (regardless of the evidence); when their strategy is to trenchantly ignore actual evidence, expert consensus or real human needs, we are heading down a very dangerous path.

    There is no point trying to convince these religious extremists. They are beyond reason. The only strategy is to out them, shine a spotlight on their ignorance and expose them to public ridicule. They have every right to their opinions, but their opinions should make them social pariahs.

    Reply
    1. picric

      Chrys, I can only appeal to you for sweet reason and respect. For example you say “He uses misinformation to try to impose ‘Christian values’ legislation on me and my family.” Why is it right for you to impose your secular and atheistic values on him and his family. The thing is we need to make good public policy in this area based upon fact and reason, and not on the vilification of your opponents. I wasn’t at the event to which you referred so I cannot evaluate what you said. Taking you at your word that he used the word “involuntary” then I say you are right to correct him on that. But the evidence from the Netherlands is not supporting your position either. We know that “terminal sedation” is unregulated and has now become a preferred method associated as it is with the withdrawal of food and fluids. The literature discusses that problem together with the movement to further liberalisation of the law to allow those who are “tired of life” to end their lives absent any “intolerable suffering”. In other words the issue is far mkore complicated than would appear at first sight.

      Reply
      1. Louella

        “Why is it right for you to impose your secular and atheistic values on him and his family.” Picric, we don’t. It’s a one-way street with the likes of Geoff Bullock wanting to impose his values on me and absolutely no values-imposition in the other direction. As far as I’m concerned, Mr Bullock may manage the end stages of his life however he wishes. He, however, would like to control how I manage mine.

      2. picric

        Dear Chrys. Sorry to be late in response but I haven’t been well. The gist of what you are saying, as I understand it, is that you occupy a position of value neutrality, that all you are asking for is don’t that people be given the opportunity to freely exercise their autonomy where euthanasia is concerned. Those who do not wish to avail themselves of euthanasia do not have to. If I have understood you correctly what I say in response is this: the appeal to the free exercise of autonomy is an appeal to one value (autonomy) which gazzumps all other values. This is one philosophical view but it is not value neutral as JS Mill would have acknowledged. You want a society where, at least in the case of euthanasia, the law is based on the free exercise of personal autonomy. The counter view is that there is more than one value at stake here, that the State has an obligation to protect the rights of all impartially (especially the weak and vulnerable), that legalised killing (at least in some circumstances) undermines the capacity of the State to do its duty because wherever there is a practice of legal voluntary euthanasia there is also a substantial practice of non-voluntary euthanasia. So the real contest in the euthanasia debate is between those who want the law to reflect one moral view based upon the value of autonomy, and those who want the law to reflect maximum protection for the weak and vulnerable.

  19. Chrys Stevenson

    I impose nothing on Bullock. He opposes gay marriage – if he doesn’t want to marry a man (and, dear God -what man would have him?) no-one will force him into such a union. If his daughter doesn’t want to have an abortion, nothing compels her to make this choice. If one of his loved ones would benefit from the results of stem cell research, no-one compels them to accept that treatment. If Bullock does not choose voluntary euthanasia, he will not be forced to do so – and there is no evidence to suggest this would be the case. I do not stride into his church and insist that I know the ‘truth’ and respond to his pastor’s assurances that the Bible is correct by saying “But, I’ve done the research!” He is free to believe as he wishes, and act as he wishes (providing it does not have a negative impact upon the lives of other Australians).

    I do not respect Mr Bullock and his ilk and I will not feign it.

    Reply
  20. Chrys Stevenson

    @picric Honestly, talking to you people is like talking to a post. Non-voluntary euthanasia has not RISEN in countries where VE has been legalized it has FALLEN. There is NO evidence of the vulnerable being at risk despite decades of close studies. Minorities and the elderly are NOT more likely to be euthanized, the majority are middle-aged people in the last stages (ofteh the last few days or hours) of terminal cancer. But you’re not interested in that, are you? No, you’re only interested in imposing your morality on the rest of us. Mind your own damned business.

    Reply
    1. Louella

      picric, sorry to hear you’ve been unwell.

      You say: “…because wherever there is a practice of legal voluntary euthanasia there is also a substantial practice of non-voluntary euthanasia.”

      Chrys has beaten me to it. I too was going to pick you up on this completely incorrect and unsupported statement that you’ve casually slipped into your argument in the hope it will be accepted and not questioned.

      Chrys has ably demonstrated it is false.

      Without it, you have no case.

      Reply
      1. picric

        Dear Louella and Chrys

        Again apologies for later reply as health issues continue to plague me. In response to the claim that a practice of voluntary euthanasia is not associated with a practice of non-voluntary euthanasia i submit the following evidence to you for your consideration.

        In May 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine published a report titled, “End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act” by van der Heide et al. The report reveals a “modest decrease” in acts of voluntary active euthanasia (VAE) and physician assisted suicide (PAS) between 2001 and 2005. The report shows that VAE was the cause for 1.7% of deaths in 2005 as opposed to 2.6% in 2001. PAS rates also dropped by 50% from 0.2% of deaths in 2001 to 0.1% in 2005. However, the authors admit the introduction of alternative life ending procedures.

        “In our study, we found that euthanasia and assisted suicide were to some extent replaced by continuous deep sedation.”

        This ‘deep continuous sedation’ (DCS) is often disguised by the gentle term ‘palliative sedation’, yet in practice is actually ‘terminal sedation.’ According to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, it often coincides with the withdrawal of feeding tubes.

        While in 2005 DCS was responsible for 7.1% of deaths (as opposed to 5.6% in 2001), it is not considered euthanasia by the Dutch on account of its nonvoluntary and gradual nature.

        According to this report, the percentage of non-voluntary active euthanasia (NVAE, but described in the report as Involuntary Active Euthanasia or IAE) occurred four times more than PAS, with a total percentage of 0.4%:

        “In 2005, the ending of life was not discussed with patients because they were unconscious (10.4%) or incompetent owing to young age (14.4%) or because of other factors (15.3%).”

        Two recent studies dealing with euthanasia in Belgium appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the 15th June 2010. The first, by Chambaere et al., involved a survey of Belgian physicians. The second, by Inghelbrecht et al., surveyed nurses who were involved in the care of patients who “received a potential life-ending decision”.

        In Chambaere’s study, 208 cases involving life-ending drugs were reported. Of these, 142 were with an explicit request (68%) and 66 were without one (32%). In 51 of the 66 cases, the decision was not discussed with the patient. When compared with those with explicit request, the deaths without explicit request were “more likely to have a shorter length of treatment of the terminal illness, to have cure as a goal of treatment in the last week, to have a shorter estimated time by which life was shortened and to involve the administration of opioids.” Given that the response rate for this survey was only 58.4%, it seems likely some physicians may not have responded knowing that they had participated in illegal activities. It is known that euthanasia is under-reported in Belgium. In one study, approximately half of all cases of euthanasia were reported. A recent Belgian news report claimed that only 1 in 4 doctors make official reports.

        In May 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine published a report titled, “End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act” by van der Heide et al. The report reveals a “modest decrease” in acts of voluntary active euthanasia (VAE) and physician assisted suicide (PAS) between 2001 and 2005. The report shows that VAE was the cause for 1.7% of deaths in 2005 as opposed to 2.6% in 2001. PAS rates also dropped by 50% from 0.2% of deaths in 2001 to 0.1% in 2005. However, the authors admit the introduction of alternative life ending procedures.
        In our study, we found that euthanasia and assisted suicide were to some extent replaced by continuous deep sedation.

        This ‘deep continuous sedation’ (DCS) is often disguised by the gentle term ‘palliative sedation’, yet in practice is actually ‘terminal sedation.’ According to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, it often coincides with the withdrawal of feeding tubes.

        While in 2005 DCS was responsible for 7.1% of deaths (as opposed to 5.6% in 2001), it is not considered euthanasia by the Dutch on account of its involuntary and gradual nature.

        According to this report, the percentage of non-voluntary active euthanasia (NVAE, but described in the report as Involuntary Active Euthanasia or IAE) occurred four times more than PAS, with a total percentage of 0.4%:

        “In 2005, the ending of life was not discussed with patients because they were unconscious (10.4%) or incompetent owing to young age (14.4%) or because of other factors (15.3%).”

        Two recent studies dealing with euthanasia in Belgium appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the 15th June 2010. The first, by Chambaere et al., involved a survey of Belgian physicians. The second, by Inghelbrecht et al., surveyed nurses who were involved in the care of patients who “received a potential life-ending decision”.

        In Chambaere’s study, 208 cases involving life-ending drugs were reported. Of these, 142 were with an explicit request (68%) and 66 were without one (32%). In 51 of the 66 cases, the decision was not discussed with the patient. When compared with those with explicit request, the deaths without explicit request were “more likely to have a shorter length of treatment of the terminal illness, to have cure as a goal of treatment in the last week, to have a shorter estimated time by which life was shortened and to involve the administration of opioids.” Given that the response rate for this survey was only 58.4%, it seems likely some physicians may not have responded knowing that they had participated in illegal activities. It is known that euthanasia is under-reported in Belgium. In one study, approximately half of all cases of euthanasia were reported. A recent Belgian news report claimed that only 1 in 4 doctors make official reports.

        End of Life decisions for infants in Belgium

        A study published in The Lancet showed that nearly half of all newborn deaths in Belgium involved euthanasia by act or omission. 194 of 253 cases involved an end of life decision. In the majority of cases, the means of euthanasia was withdrawal of treatment. In 40 cases opiates were used to shorten life and in 17 cases lethal drugs were administered. Lethal administration of drugs to end the life of neonates or infants is illegal in Belgium. The study also surveyed the attitudes of physicians. 79% of physicians thought that “the task of the physician sometimes involves the prevention of unnecessary suffering by hastening death”. 58% supported “legalisation of life termination in some cases”.

  21. Pingback: The Bear Necessities « Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

  22. Geoff Bullock

    I haven’t had the time to read through your post and it’s comments but I must out of urgency ask you you to advise your readers that the “Geoff Bullock” that you ha dadiscussion with was not me: the “Geoff Bullock Songwriter”. I would appreciate that you would make a post to define that whoever ther Geoff Bullock you spoke to was not me and in no way do we share the same views.

    Reply
      1. Geoff

        Thank you so much, I love the picture you put in your letter, I struggle with the fundamentalist ignorance that masquerades as “spirituality”. There is so much more I could say, but I would just be inviting a stoning. Just read a book about Sarah Palin called The Rogue. Very scary.

      2. Eva Brych

        Geoff re Sarah Palin – there’s a pic on the home page of Talk2Action of Palin being prayed over in Wasilla AOG by Thomas Muthee of the New Apostolic Reformation that she be protected from all kinds of witchcraft. Witchcraft! This woman came close to being US V/P! What was Mc Cain thinking?? It put me in mind of a book about the Salem trials by George Miller Beard, written circa 1860. “There are times in the evolution of delusions, and in the history of nations in which delusions are organised, when non-expertness in any special line, long restrained through circumstances or negligence, becomes a volcano; the low mutterings and reverberations that are at once so frequent and so slight, but so harmless as to cause no alarm, suddenly cease, and from the long quiet crater an eruption appears…Such was the witchcraft excitement in Salem in 1692.”

  23. Pingback: ‘Doing a Deveny’ on Dying with Dignity « Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

  24. Arthur

    Wow, that is some diarrhea of words, and what a scientific mix of facts and plain venom against Christianity. I am impressed!

    Reply
    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Glad you’re impressed, Arthur. If you read it correctly, you would see it’s a diatribe against the ignorance, dishonesty and hubris of some Christians of a certain mindset. The fact is, that the majority of Australian Christians support voluntary euthanasia legislation. It is not Christianity I have an issue with, it is the studied ignorance and hypocritical propaganda of some of its proponents that I find outrageous.

      Reply

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