According to The Sydney Morning Herald of 24 August 2012, the Fijian government received a proposal for the establishment of a ‘death clinic’ in Nadi from the leading Australian advocate of voluntary euthanasia, Dr Philip Nitschke. It is another example of the contempt and disrespect with which Pacific nations are viewed in some western democracies, which see them as little more than a dumping ground for their asylum seekers, their poor-quality products and a sanctuary for all variety of latter-day carpetbaggers to ply their dubious schemes with promises of endless economic benefits. After some 150 years of Christianizing influence and robust economic engagement with the compassionate, caring and benevolent western nations, most Pacific islands remain in a state of abject poverty and not a single country has realized its full potential. This article highlights the potential for psycho-social harm to the local populace, the nuanced contempt for the historical ‘other’ and chimeric gains rather than ‘considerable income’ likely to accrue to Fiji – not to mention further vandalism of Fiji’s tarnished global image.
Euthanasia and abortion are the extreme ends of a protracted debate between the pro-choice (right to die advocates) and pro-lifers (sanctity of life advocates) that has occupied some leading public intellectuals over the last few decades in the West. In response to periodic upsurge in interest, each side is forced to rethink its motives or fortify its defenses. In Australia, the issues boiled over when the Northern Territory passed The Rights of the Terminally Act (RTI), on 25 May 1995, and thus, it acquired the dubious distinction of becoming the first place on earth to sanction the right to die. Intended to come into effect in 1996, it was a controversial legislation, which, in defined circumstances, allowed a doctor to comply with a request from the patient to end the patient’s life or assist the patient to end his or her life. However, in 1996, in response to a private member’s bill introduced by Federal MP, Kevin Andrews, the Federal government overrode the Territory’s legislation and removed the power of state to enact laws which either ‘permit or have the effect of permitting the form of intentional killing of another called euthanasia (which include mercy killing) or the assisting of a person to terminate his or her life’. By then, only four people had managed to invoke the provisions of the NT legislation to end their lives.
At present, assisted suicide, mercy killing or voluntary euthanasia are illegal in all Australian states and territories. Worldwide, only a few European states and two US states have legalized medically-assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. Dr Nitschke’s proposals for Fiji envisage a ‘hastened death service’ operational in Nadi, similar to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, which has reportedly assisted about 1,000 foreigners to end their lives since 1998. It is the only clinic of its type that offers its services to the foreigners. Other countries do not allow access to potential patients who live outside their particular jurisdiction. So far, only six Australians but no New Zealander have used the services of Dignitas, so the numbers are modest and far from exciting as imagined by Nitschke, the chief proponent of the scheme and the head of Exit International – an organization dedicated to the dissemination of end-of-life information and its advocacy.
According to The Fiji Times Online, 25 August 2012, the proposals were received by Fiji’s Attorney-General in August 2011 but this week Nitschke upped the ante by revisiting the issue and his public disclosure of the preferred location. He argued ‘it would cost between $5,000 and $8,000 excluding airfares and depending on Fijian government’s taxes and charges’. This is considerably cheaper than Dignitas fees of $12,000 and Nitschke opined that as a developing country, Fiji could derive ‘considerable income’ by servicing clients from Australia, NZ, Asia and India. It would earn income through government taxes and charges, the provision of burial services and continuing tourism revenue derived from remembrance visits for the departed.
The pro-choice adherents argue that legally and medically supervised euthanasia cannot be equated to the killing of the aged, infirm and suffers of chronic medical conditions by those who are comfortable and free from any affliction. They also suggest it cannot be treated as the killing of the vulnerable and unwanted by the powerful. Their stance exonerates the doctors, lawyers and family members from the responsibility for terminating life if there was no quality of life and where the patient had made a ‘choice’ while of sound mind and capable of exercising agency to die without pain and with dignity, subject to instituting appropriate safeguards. Thus, they argue, humane death is afforded and it is far superior to the intolerable pain, undue physical suffering or inevitable descent to a vegetative state when the patient loses all cognitive ability and self-control. The prolonging of life then becomes otiose. Besides, to them, it is about free will and the right to die as one pleases. In other words, the collectivist society should not have the right to strip the individual of his right.
On the other hand, the pro-lifers enjoy considerable support within the clergy and just as passionately argue the issues, which are equally clear to them. They suggest mercy killing or euthanasia would lead to gradual corruption of society and represents the very antithesis of justice, fairness and charity. Any form of ‘state-sanctioned killing’ should be considered reprehensible for it undermines the very legitimacy of the state and its need to uphold the principles of criminal law. Its advocates argue that the sanctity of life and deeper fears of a ‘slippery slope’ effect take precedence over considerations of death with dignity, autonomy, compassion and choice. They point to the fact that despite shifting public opinion few countries have moved to legalize euthanasia as the issues are complex, and mostly involve the most vulnerable who, if anything, may require greater protection from the law. Some palliative care experts suggest their vulnerability exposes them to exploitation and potential harm. The fear of physical or psychological pain is not sufficient cause for early termination of life.
Whatever the merits of their respective arguments, why encumber a poor island state with yet another ‘Pacific Solution’? If pro-choice adherents are winning the debate and the ‘more enlightened countries of Europe and some of the States of America’ approve of Nitschke’s motives and believe the proposals are ‘humane and compassionate’ (as he claimed on ABC Radio Australia, 24 August 2012), then why not simply have the clinic in Australia or other jurisdictions that approve of medically-assisted suicide? Surely, it would be closer to high quality medical care, financially less risky and a lot cheaper for the mostly ‘white’ patients in their home countries.
To be fair to Nitschke, unlike the Australian government’s presumptuous announcement of a ‘Pacific Solution’ to set up a refugee processing centre in East Timor without consulting the East Timorese government, he wrote to Fiji’s Attorney-General seeking proper consideration of his proposals. But it still fails to satisfy the obvious concern: if it is so lucrative and morally acceptable to the rich First World citizens, why don’t they set up clinics in their own countries? Australia as part of a benevolent and ‘enlightened’ western world sought to bypass 1951 Geneva Convention as it did not wish to deal with so-called boat people, who should have been treated as refugees and asylum seekers. Under the Howard government, they were relocated to Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island in order to discourage the arrivals by boats. After abandoning the policy under Rudd, the Gillard government has been forced to resurrect the Pacific Solution but past experiences suggest that whilst it may have temporarily solved Australia border control issues, the Pacific islands involved hardly made a fortune. The Nauruans and Manus Islanders expressed anger at their treatment vis-a-vis the refugees. These opportunistic ‘western’ strategies are hardly the answers to their long-term economic challenges. At best, they represent an arrogant assumption on the part of western countries that historical ‘others’ will continue to kowtow to their wishes.
Fiji does not need an added sinister dimension to its tourist industry. It is in the midst of overcoming the growing pains of multi-ethnic, conservative and conflicted society. There is something quite amoral in window-dressing the proposals as an altruistic gesture to economically help Fiji when it is clearly designed to circumvent current restrictions that apply in western societies. There is no sound reason for Fiji to welcome such a plan nor is it in urgent need of rescuing from carpetbaggers. Nitschke’s proposals should be unequivocally rejected if only to make the obvious point that Fiji does not need solutions to its economic problems from disingenuous benefactors.
Sydney, August 2012