Christopher Pearson, in his article in The Australian, hoped that in 2011,
a grand coalition of the major faiths, assisted by some heavy-weight moral philosophers, will see the campaign against euthanasia as one they can’t afford to lose.
Certainly it is a campaign that we cannot simply leave up to “public opinion”. I know that sounds very anti-democratic of me, but sometimes just deciding an important legal and moral issue on the basis of “opinion polls” is very dangerous and can lead to very bad laws.
This point was driven home with a (somewhat triumphalistic) article in today’s edition of The Age, which trumpeted “Euthanasia wins 75% support”. Aside from the veracity or reliability of the poll itself, which was conducted by the Australian Institute (we could, for example, ask about the exact question put to the survey participants), we need to ask if this is the way we want law to be developed in Australia.
By coincidence, I have just been listening to an old podcast of an ABC National Radio Sunday Night program on this very issue. The issue of the roll of public opinion was raised in that discussion. One of the points raised by the program is that the death penalty also consistently attracts a majority support in Australia too, but for many reasons our governments have judged that this would not be a good thing to reintroduce.
Interestingly the first person to call into the program was a man who said he supported Euthanasia, and then went on to demonstrate that he really didn’t know what Euthanasia was and was not. This level of ignorance of the issues involved (which is very high in our community) means that polls like these are misleading. Did the poll participants, for instance, know that the bill proposed by the Greens for NSW included a clause about mandatory referal similar to that which is in the Victorian abortion law?
Mr Pearson is quite right. This is a debate in which all people in Australia must become thoroughly informed, and we need the contributions of people of faith and philosophers, as well as people who work in medicine, nursing and palliative care, so that our laws continue to be made on solid ground.
I came out of an ecclesial community in which everything was decided “democratically”, ie. by majority opinion. It sounds good as an idea to those for whom democracy is the highest form of good government, but when translated into questions about what is right and good can lead to very bad decisions.