Discrimination must not be tolerated
The equality of all humans should be one of the most fundamental principles embedded in the moral frameworks and legal systems of civilised societies. It rightly forms the basis of Article 1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Unfortunately, such a fundamental principle has not been properly established in many countries. Equality is denied when discrimination occurs. Discrimination is relatively commonplace, and particularly firmly entrenched in many religious organisations. Widespread discrimination can lead to intolerance and conflict, because, unsurprisingly, those who are discriminated against object to being treated as second-class citizens.
Australia's recently drafted Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 is commendable in its objectives but does little to reduce discrimination. It claims aspiringly 'to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and racial vilification, consistently [sic] with Australia's obligations under the human rights instruments and the ILO instruments'. However, this proposed legislation offers special measures, including exemptions to religious organisations so they can continue to discriminate on such attributes as religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy etc. It would seem that most governments lack the courage to stop religious organisations from discriminating. Some religions discriminate against people if they are not of the requisite religion (and subjective religions are related to race/culture), or preferred sex, sexual orientation, and marital status. Australia's proposed legislation does not remove this inequity.
A distinction should firstly be made between invidious discrimination, which should be eliminated, and appropriate differentiation, of individuals or groups. Invidious discrimination occurs when a person or organisation treats others unfavourably because of their particular attributes, whether that be a person's sex, sexual orientation, marital status, race etc. In contrast, appropriate differentiation would allow, for example, without claims of discrimination, segregated sporting events to occur for men and women, and an age limit to be applied to learning drivers, because a reasonable and objective explanation can be developed in these cases.
Within this framework, it is apparent there is no reasonable and objective explanation why a mathematics teacher at any school could not be an unmarried, pregnant, multi-coloured lesbian of no religion (or of another religion). The ability to teach mathematics is independent of the aforementioned attributes. To be denied a job because of a person's particular attributes is a denial of equality that ought not be tolerated in a civilised society.
The discriminatory and bigoted values of some of the mainstream churches are no more ethically 'right' than the racist values that were relatively commonplace in the middle of the twentieth century. How can racial discrimination be ethically wrong but sexual discrimination be permitted? How can there be a moral basis for an Islamic black man who discriminates against women complaining that he is being discriminated against? How can a religious male politician who denies lesbians the right to marriage or to be a leader in his church claim that he treats people equally? There is no justification for any of these situations because there is no moral distinction between these types of invidious discrimination. Intolerance of, and discrimination against, people with particular attributes is bigotry.
Many religions try to justify their religious discrimination as a right, the freedom to practise one's religion. But such a right impacts adversely on others. So what happens when there is a conflict between religious freedoms and the rights of an individual, such as an individual's right to be treated equally and not to be subjected to invidious discrimination?
Many religions preach some variant of the ethical golden rule, or doing unto others as they do unto you. Members of one religion would not like members of other religions to exercise their religious freedom if that involved the imposition of the other religion on them, or allowing the other religion to kill them (if that were a 'view' of the other religion). Even if it were something more trivial, such as having another religion's eating rituals being imposed on them, this would be a cause of stern objection.
That people do not want their individual rights to be violated by another religion (or any other person, organisation or government for that matter) is the key. It is then straightforward to conclude that a freedom of religion should only extend so far as to where it does not impinge on the rights of other individuals. People can believe in and practice what they wish, no matter how profound, or silly and deluded, that might be, but not if it denies other people's equality or human rights, causes discrimination, or otherwise adversely affects other individuals. A regime of religious discrimination juxtaposed on a principle of doing unto others as they do unto you is hypocrisy.
To avoid claims of having hypocritical bigoted views, one would think that religious organisations would reject their current discriminatory views and advocate legislative change that condemned and prohibited all invidious discrimination. Unfortunately, enlightened change is not the way of the bigot.
To explore further the nature of religious discrimination, consider the following scenario. What if a new religion were to be established tomorrow, and an inspired person drafts a religious text that reflects the views of the newly conceived and perfect God. The newly drafted religious text includes the following verses attributable to the new God.
- A black person should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a black person to teach or to have authority over a non-black person; the black person must be silent.
- Any black person who is arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the priest who represents your God must die.
- A black person who works on God's holy day will be put to death.
- If a person has sex with a black person, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own hands.
The above verses are racist and abhorrent. They deny black people equality. Such a religious text must be treated with the contempt that any racially discriminatory text deserves. The proponents of the new religion would say that their God moves in mysterious ways or that the text is not meant to be taken literally. Neither explanation conceals the underlying racism and discrimination.
The astute observer would realise that these verses have been extracted from the Christian Bible and reworked to substitute the phrase 'black person' in biblical verses that condemn women, non-believers, a person who works contrary to God's laws, and homosexuals. It is clear that the terms 'woman', or 'gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex person', 'Caucasian male', or 'pregnant person' could have been similarly substituted.
If the newly drafted religious text is abhorrent, discriminatory and unacceptable in modern society, then so too is the Christian religion. Other discriminatory religions and organisations should be condemned with equal vigour.
It follows that public funding or support of any discriminatory religious organisations should be handled in the same manner as that for a body that might discriminate on the basis of race: governments should condemn them and never support or finance them, directly or indirectly.
It is absurd in modern society that governments give massive tax exemptions, and exemptions from discrimination legislation, to religious organisations. Many religions teach that only people of their religion are worthy of reward in a speculated afterlife. They discriminate in churches and hospitals, educational institutions and nursing homes. In recent times a horrendous record of child sexual abuse in religious institutions has become public. Furthermore, many churches indoctrinate children to worship a god or gods that, according to their scriptures, are guilty of indiscriminately killing humans—the most warped of moral messages. Religions peddling discrimination and perverse moral messages deserve condemnation.
It would seem that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is no more than an aspirational piece of paper. People must work hard to secure the most fundamental of rights, because, while governments continue to allow people, organisations and religions to invidiously discriminate, there can be no equality.
Euthanasia: the clergy and religious politicians are wrong
Senator Bob Brown’s Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 will be debated soon in the federal parliament. If passed, the Bill will repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which removed the right of the Territories to legislate for euthanasia (a voluntary act, defined below). It will not legalise euthanasia.
Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Pat Power (Who can tell when it is right to die?, 8 February) recently argued against euthanasia, in response to my earlier article advocating support for euthanasia and Senator Brown’s Bill (Canberra Times, 31 Jan 2011). It is highly probable that he and many religious politicians will try to defeat Senator Brown’s Bill. It is disturbing that an ACT, NT or Norfolk Island citizen, or any competent Australian citizen, could argue that Territorians should not have the same rights as Australians living in States to legislate for euthanasia.
Bishop Power’s case against euthanasia is fundamentally flawed, based as it seems to be on the assumption that his religion’s views against euthanasia should be imposed on everybody, as I discuss later. There are also significant errors in his arguments. Bishop Power regrettably quoted out of context my definition of euthanasia to suggest that bankrupt people could access euthanasia if they were depressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. I noted that there are many legislated means of ensuring euthanasia is voluntary, including having patients examined by a number of doctors, including a psychiatrist. Clearly doctors are engaged to examine patients with terminal illnesses, and not to attest to their bankruptcy.
Legislative models used overseas and proposed by euthanasia advocates only allow euthanasia as an option for articulate, lucid terminally ill people not suffering from clinically treatable depression. If an additional condition was required, terminally ill people could be required to place their names on a euthanasia register for six months before being permitted to request euthanasia. The ACT Greens MLA, Amanda Bresnan, has proposed a legislative model involving a voluntary euthanasia board, and assessments by doctors (Canberra Times, 7 February). Such precautions are necessary and commonplace around the world to protect people whose minds might be easily swayed, and they are effective because such people would not have the mental resolve to convince a psychiatrist that their euthanasia decision was made voluntarily.
Euthanasia is defined as a deliberate act intended to cause the death of a patient, at that patient’s request, for what he or she sees as being in his or her best interests (often called active voluntary euthanasia). Clearly, euthanasia’s voluntary nature is implicit in this definition, and this is recognised by the 85% of Australians who support it. It is precisely the voluntary nature of euthanasia that makes it ethically right. Bishop Power mistakenly disputed the popular support for euthanasia in Australia. If he had checked the Australia-wide poll conducted in 2009 by Newspoll he would have indeed discovered that 85% of those surveyed support the right of a “hopelessly ill patient, experiencing unrelievable suffering, with absolutely no chance of recovering” to ask for and gain assistance with a lethal dose (euthanasia). I would encourage Bishop Power to base his arguments on evidence.
Despite the overwhelming public support for euthanasia, the voluntary nature of euthanasia still confounds euthanasia’s outspoken opponents: mostly religious politicians, leaders and zealots. They claim that euthanasia is not voluntary, that people would be coerced into a decision, and that people would be killed without their consent. The simple analogy “consensual sex is to rape as euthanasia is to murder” highlights the relationship that almost everybody comprehends: that consensual sex and euthanasia are voluntary and should be permissible. It is patronising and arrogant to suggest that articulate, lucid individuals of sound mind are vulnerable and cannot make their own end-of-life decisions. Individuals can choose their own sexual partners, make financial decisions, write their wills, and even choose to have life support withdrawn, and without Bishop Power and religious politicians acting as their moral guardian.
If Bishop Power and religious politicians legitimately oppose euthanasia with appropriate legislative measures because they are concerned about a patient’s vulnerability, then they should also oppose the withdrawal of life support for terminally ill patients (currently legal and supported by everyone) because the same vulnerability concerns exist. But they don’t, and nor should they. So it would seem that patient vulnerability (as it can be protected legislatively) is perhaps but a ploy to deflect attention from their main purpose, which one can reasonably surmise is their determination to impose their religious beliefs on other people. Regrettably, many religious politicians follow this lead.
Barack Obama, as a Senator, correctly recognised that governments must not legislate based on politicians’ religious beliefs. He said “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
Many Australian politicians lack the ability of President Obama to separate their religious beliefs from their political responsibilities. They must understand that their religion is not amenable to reason and must not be forced on others. Bishop Power and the clergy must do likewise.
Bishop Power is very supportive of palliative care, and rightly so. Compassionate people would agree that the best possible palliative care be available to all who want it. But when palliative care can no longer alleviate the suffering of people such as a young Angelique Flowers, who suffered a bowel blockage and vomited her own faecal matter before dying, then euthanasia is clearly an option that many people would like to choose. All people, including Bishop Power and religious politicians, should view Angelique’s video and they would realise that the current legislative environment is inhumane and deplorable. Anything short of legalised euthanasia with appropriate controls would be a shameful reflection on the politicians who govern us.
A better-funded palliative care system could benefit those terminally ill patients who want to stay alive at all costs, regardless of their quality of life (which of course is their choice). Unfortunately governments must make decisions about allocating finite resources; that’s the nature of a modern economy. Currently governments are choosing to spend billions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars keeping alive terminally ill people who do not wish to be kept alive rather than spending billions of dollars on additional palliative care for people who wish to stay alive. Every rational terminally ill person, whether they would choose euthanasia or not, would disagree with them. Religious politicians and the clergy seem oblivious to this irony.
Bishop Power also commented that it would be a “frightening prospect to be governed by people lacking in any deeply held principles” if religious politicians were to leave their religious principles at the doors of parliament. He is scaremongering. Many people, and most people supportive of individual rights, have very strong principles; it’s just that they are not Bishop Power’s. Although I disagree with Bishop Power’s religious beliefs, what he and religious politicians believe is not the problem here, rather it is that they deny others the liberty to make their own end-of-life decisions. Ordinary, well-meaning religious people do not impose their views on others, and they comprise much of the 85 per cent who support euthanasia. Fantastic. I, and others who make the case for individual liberty and euthanasia, must continue to stress that it is the imposition of politicians’ values, religious or otherwise, on the individual lives of other people that is offensive, and contrary to libertarian principles. Euthanasia advocates simply demand individual choice for all and object to other peoples’ religious views being forced on them by legislative fiat.
Liberty is paramount in any democratic society, and the classic declaration of John Stuart Mill is as relevant now as ever: “over himself, over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign”. If liberty is being threatened, by organised religion through religious politicians, then all free-thinking people should rally against the threat. The threat is more reprehensible when it is terminally ill people who suffer pain and indignity as a consequence of being denied the liberty to make their own end-of-life decisions. Individual liberty demands that everyone is responsible for his or her own body, not Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Ron Boswell or Pat Power. Before imposing their views on others, perhaps Bishop Power and religious politicians should consider their own religious principle of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Bishop Power and religious politicians would do well to accept Barack Obama’s challenge and translate their concerns against euthanasia into universal values, “amenable to reason”. They should consider the following ethical thought experiment. How would each of them rationalise his or her presumed beliefs that death and horrendous murder is good and permissible if the biblical god he or she believes in causes it, while the peaceful death of terminally ill patients, at their own request, when acute or chronic suffering is the alternative, is unacceptable? A belief that death is only acceptable when the deity of your religion causes it is not something that Barack Obama would state is a “principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all”. If euthanasia continues to be banned in the absence of a satisfactory argument amenable to reason, then democracy fails us.
It will nonetheless be a difficult task to change the quite entrenched views of many religious politicians when they vote on Senator Brown’s Bill, even though it is a Bill supporting Territory rights. However, if Senator Brown’s Bill does not pass and the Legislative Assemblies in the Territories continue to prohibit euthanasia, then there is a solution. Dr Philip Nitschke, through his organisation, Exit International, is empowering many Australians and people around the world with information, much to the ire of religious politicians, so that people can, and do, order their euthanasia drugs, as they have been doing for some years. Australia’s federal politicians can either vote for Senator Brown’s Bill, or bury their heads in the sand. If the latter, politicians will be ignoring the fact that most Australians want the option of euthanasia and many are doing something about it in the absence of real political leadership.
Right to die should be my own
or Euthanasia, religious politicians and a poor moral compass
By David Swanton Posted Monday, 31 January 2011 in the Canberra Times, p. 9
Senator Bob Brown’s Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 will be debated soon in the federal parliament. If passed, the Bill will repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which removed the right of the Territories to legislate for euthanasia. It will not legalise euthanasia. However, because some politicians have already indicated they might reject Senator Brown’s Bill because of its euthanasia association, their views require analysis.
Most opposition to the Bill comes from religious politicians, leaders, and others who oppose euthanasia. They claim that euthanasia is not voluntary, that people would be coerced into a decision, and that people would be killed without their consent. Euthanasia is defined as a deliberate act intended to cause the death of a patient, at that patient’s request, for what he or she sees as being in his/her best interests. Clearly, euthanasia’s voluntary nature is implicit in this definition, and this is recognised by the 80-85% of Australians who support it. It is precisely the voluntary nature of euthanasia that makes it ethically right. If it’s not voluntary, it would be illegal.
There are legislated means of ensuring euthanasia is voluntary, including having the patient examined by a number of doctors, including a psychiatrist. If an additional condition was required, terminally ill people could be required to place their names on a euthanasia register for six months before being permitted to request euthanasia.
Barack Obama, as a Senator, correctly recognised that governments must not legislate based on politicians’ religious beliefs. He said ‘Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.’
Many Australian politicians lack the ability of President Obama to separate their religious beliefs from their political responsibilities. They must understand that their religion is not amenable to reason and must not be forced on others.
Nonetheless, many religious politicians oppose euthanasia when even the majority of religious people accept that people should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions. It would seem logical that politicians should, on individual rights issues such as euthanasia, give individuals choice, because even politicians themselves demand an individual conscience vote on euthanasia issues in parliament.
The problem is that religious politicians who oppose euthanasia have views that are undemocratic, arrogant, hypocritical and wrong.
Their views are undemocratic because they want to deny people living in Territories the right to legislate for euthanasia if they so wish, when people in States have this power. They need to respect the equality of all Australians by not discriminating against people living in the Territories.
They are arrogant because they think they know what is better for other individuals than those individuals themselves.
They are hypocritical, because they would not want other people to impose other religious beliefs on them, but this is exactly what they are doing to other people. Religious politicians should follow their maxim of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
These politicians choose to follow a god that they believe has killed millions in a great flood and killed the first-born children in Egypt, to recall a couple of horrendous biblical crimes. That they choose to worship/idolise a god they believe is a murderer reflects their poor moral compass. Yet they want to deny individuals the right to choose euthanasia because killing is contrary to their moral values. Less-polite analysts than me would probably describe such hypocrites in more colourful terms.
If euthanasia were permitted, significant funds could be made available to rebuild infrastructure after Australia’s devastating floods and to provide additional care for those who want to stay alive for as long as possible. However, by opposing euthanasia, religious politicians are instead demanding that governments waste billions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars keeping alive terminally ill people who do not wish to be kept alive. This is unwanted taxpayer-funded torture and a disgraceful use of public funds. Most terminally ill people might never request euthanasia, but if pain, indignity, and suffering were to make a person’s quality of life unacceptable (according to that person alone), that person should not be denied euthanasia as a last resort.
Unsurprisingly, many euthanasia supporters have little respect for the religious politicians who rule the roost. If Senator Brown’s Bill does not pass and the ACT Legislative Assembly continues to prohibit euthanasia, then there is a solution. Dr Philip Nitschke, through his organisation, Exit International, has empowered many Australians and people around the world with information (you can hear the religious politicians swearing ‘how dare he’) so that people can, and do, order their euthanasia drugs, as they have been doing for some years. Politicians can either vote for Senator Brown’s Bill, or bury their heads in the sand. If the latter, politicians will be ignoring the fact that most Australians want the option of euthanasia and many are doing something about it in the absence of real political leadership.