Doing Us Slowly – Deb Campbell a book review by Neal Drinnan



Deb Campbell’s last word on our last words:


In the sleepy hollow of Deans Marsh lives a woman of extraordinarily focused passion. She has taken on a topic few people (least of all politicians) want to talk about. Our right to die at a time of our own choosing. Deb Campbell has been a powerful advocate for justice and democracy in the region for a number of years but lately has honed her fine analytical skills on the discussion that won’t go away no matter how long pollies ignore it. Her new book Doing Us Slowly takes its name from a famed speech by Prime Minister Paul Keating in response to a question by then opposition leader John Hewson. Hewson had repeatedly asked why Keating wouldn’t call an election to which he replied that he wouldn’t call one because  ‘I want to do you slowly.’ A funny enough line at the time but one Campbell is now using to describe the debate or lack thereof around voluntary assisted death:

Today, that phrase has lost its humour. Australians are all being done slowly, as our personal agency is denied — and politicians and commentators ignore, reject or manipulate calls for reform. The changes canvassed in this essay are minor: alterations to regulations of a specific pharmaceutical, and to the laws relating to assisted suicide in particular cases. Yet these small changes will require substantial shifts in our way of thinking about death, and to the practice of medicine.


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Campbell’s argument is extremely compelling and very readable. Her observation that those who are at a point in their lives when they would choose to make a peaceful and gentle transition from this world is fraught with so many hurdles and obstacles that the process becomes altogether too daunting for many of us to contemplate; or  worse, results in exit strategies that cause even more suffering to the departed and their loved ones:

In a way, the euthanasia issue can be seen as a case study of one of the many power struggles that are being played out in Australia on several fronts. While the major players in each of the battles over (for example) the environment, corporate malfeasance, military excursions, refugees, and the economy are different, in each case government and the media operate in tandem to contain and constrain discussion and exclude the people’s voices from the discourse.

It is the ‘people’s voices’ that Campbell has long championed, whether in the development of local government ventures, reclamation of church owned sites or the protection of the fragile Otway ecology. Her work as a researcher is needle sharp and the political landscape she paints is one of ‘good old paternalism’ founded on baseless scare tactics.

As seemingly inevitable conclusions about a range of issues from same sex marriage, climate change and our own right to gently conclude our lives find continued opposition in Parliament, Campbell’s voice is one of reason and compassion. She has met with Dr Phillip Nitschke and followed the issues surrounding euthanasia with an eagle eye. She returns again and again to the need we each have as individuals to feel less pain at the end of our lives rather than more. There are many stakeholders in the anti-euthanasia debate yet there are very successful models already at work in the world which citizens of those countries can avail themselves to when the time comes. Deb Campbell is not afraid to take the bull by the horns and happy to leave us scratching our heads as to why her model isn’t public agenda number one. I’d motion this!



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