A ‘Lightning Rod’ for Vilification: Australian MP’s Experience Opposing Euthanasia

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
August 26, 2021 Updated: August 26, 2021

West Australian Upper House MP Nick Goiran has said that repeated personal attacks and media vilification against opponents of proposed euthanasia laws served as the cornerstone of the campaign that ultimately won public support for the controversial legislation.

Amid acrimonious debate over the issue, Western Australia’s largest newspaper ran the following front-page headline: “RIP Democracy Died: November 22, 2019.”

The story targeted Goiran, who was the lead figure—or “lightning rod” as his colleagues referred to him—challenging the impending Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.

Goiran described the newspaper piece as “water off a duck’s back,” but it was damaging to the pro-life campaign.

Epoch Times Photo
Front page of the West Australian newspaper on Nov. 22, 2019. (Screenshot)

“There is a tactic to simply identify a high-profile individual and vilify them and make them the villain in the campaign,” Goiran told The Epoch Times. “They were consistently prosecuting arguments that would refer to me as an ‘extreme conservative’ or ‘extreme fundamentalist,’ who blocked the passage of this Bill and wanted people to continue to suffer.”

“Obviously those things are untrue—but truth was not the issue,” he added. “They just vilified the person so that there would be great sympathy for the alternative campaign.”

In 2019, before the WA Parliament legalised euthanasia, Goiran proposed 357 amendments to the Bill, leading to accusations of “filibustering.”

Ultimately, 55 amendments went through, with the government even proposing 20 of them.

Goiran noted that WA Parliament had already deliberated on the issue ten years earlier in 2009, and said MPs were free to consider the facts without media pressure, and subsequently voted against it.

“The difference in 2019, when we dealt with the most recent Bill, was a full-blown orchestrated campaign, involving the mainstream media in WA,” he said.

“We are dominated by the Seven West Media network, and they have one owner—it has certainly been reported to me that he had given the green light to his editor to say that he wanted to back this 100 percent,” Goiran claimed.

Local MPs facing “overwhelming” pressure from both the media and the general public began to suffer “political paralysis,” according to Goiran.

Epoch Times Photo
(Sabine van Erp/Pixabay)

“And they resorted to the (excuse), ‘I’ve got to represent my community.’ Instead of taking a leadership approach and saying, ‘As a leader in our community I have a responsibility to educate myself on all the facts, come to a conclusion, and explain it to my community,” he added. “That’s been the difference in the last 20 years.”

Pro-euthanasia group Go Gentle Australia maintains that Australians had long “made up their mind” on voluntary assisted dying.

“Opinion polls from the past 25 years have consistently shown more than 70 percent of Australians support giving terminally ill people the choice to seek medical assistance to end their suffering,” Kiki Paul, CEO of Go Gentle told The Epoch Times.

“Any shift has been parliaments finally listening to and reflecting the views of their constituents,” she added. “Campaigns highlighting the evidence and tested facts about assisted dying have simply corrected misinformation and given MPs the reassurance they need to vote for these laws.”

“Australians overwhelmingly support the idea that competent adults with a terminal illness and only days or weeks left to live should have a choice not to suffer unnecessarily.”

Go Gentle was founded by Australian television presenter Andrew Denton; a public face for the pro-euthanasia movement in the country.

Peter Kurti, director of the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies said figures like Denton or Dr. Philip Nitschke—the “Elon Musk of suicide”—have been persuasive public advocates for the practice, while opponents have lacked the same effective spokespeople.

Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) TV presenter Andrew Denton, cricket player Adam Gilchrist, Belinda Teh, cricket coach Ric Charlesworth at Kings Park before walking on to the WA Parliament with euthanasia advocates in Perth, Australia, on Aug. 6, 2019. (Will Russell/Getty Images)

“I don’t think the media generated the interest in euthanasia alone,” Kurti told The Epoch Times. “However, it has been very receptive to what media-friendly advocates such as Denton have had to say.”

Kurti noted as well that the debate around euthanasia had shifted towards a more “emotional” platform.

“The language about euthanasia has changed from ‘physician-assisted suicide’ to ‘voluntary assisted dying,’ so the perceived social impact of what is proposed— permitting doctors to kill patients—has also changed,” he said.

“Deliberate killing is cloaked in the language of dignity, autonomy, compassion, and the avoidance of suffering. Again, this element of the campaign has also been very successful,” he added. “Opponents are cast as being without compassion, willing to see people suffer, and denying human dignity.”

Epoch Times Photo
Euthanasia medication being prepared for consumption (Go Gentle Australia/Screenshot)

“Once emotion gets a grip, it’s much harder to get people to think in reasonable terms about the grave consequences that will confront our society when we permit doctors deliberately to kill their patients,” Kurti said.

Goiran maintained that in a discussion on the facts around euthanasia there was “no contest.”

“Our list of facts are enormous and case studies and so forth, whereas our opponents have got very little,” he added.

“But where we lose out is on the battle of emotion. The proponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia have several compelling emotional stories. And so, whether it’s right or wrong. The simple reality is emotional stories always have a greater weight than facts,” he said. Goiran noting wryly as well that democracy had in fact, not died at the end of 2019.

In recent years, Australian state parliaments have approved euthanasia laws in succession with Victoria (2017), Western Australia (2019), Tasmania (2021), South Australia (2021) all legalising the practice. Queensland and New South Wales are deliberating over proposed laws.

Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng