Why are pollies dragging their feet on euthanasia?
QUEENSLAND'S Liberal National Party members last weekend wrestled with some weighty issues, some that exist more in their collective imaginations than in the real world.
In that category I would place its vote encouraging all its MPs to ensure there were "no impediments to traditional Christian celebrations such as Christmas and Easter".
Despite unfounded outbursts from the usual suspects, there is no evidence that these Christian celebrations are under threat.
Of more substance were their fears for the reading of the Lord's Prayer in the Senate.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon is leading a push to replace the prayer with something along the lines of "let us in silence pray or reflect upon our responsibilities to all people of Australia and to future generations''.
This, according to the LNP is a "retrograde" step and, anyway, says Senator Matt Canavan, the Lord's Prayer is a "shared heritage".
Perhaps that's a call too far for those who don't believe in fathers in heaven but, suffice to say, this routine recital doesn't seem to have contributed vastly to our Parliament in the way of wisdom, charity, tolerance and trespassing.
But, this stout defence of prayer to heaven was passed on the show of hands.
Not quite so open was a closed session vote in which party members called for the LNP "to oppose euthanasia or assisted suicide legislation while supporting quality palliative care''.
The media assured us there was no attempt to bind the party members to a vote, with the Coalition traditionally establishing a conscience vote on such matters.
This presumably makes some sense to the same sort of people who accept that the Liberal Party call to sell the ABC is not binding on its elected members but it leaves the rest of us to scratch our heads.
Next month the Senate will debate a move by David Leyonhjelm to return legislative powers to the territories to allow legally assisted suicide.
Given both major parties will allow a free vote, this move is expected to pass but it is reasonable to expect that at least some senators will be mindful of the official Queensland party line.
Certainly it would encourage Victorian Kevin Andrews, the man who masterminded the overthrow of the Northern Territory's euthanasia laws in 1996 and says he hasn't changed his mind.
And, presumably, the Queensland vote would have met with the approval of Labor frontbencher Tony Burke, then director of the Euthanasia No! group, who worked with Andrews on the Bill.
It seems passingly curious that our politicians could not trust themselves with a conscience vote on same-sex marriage but will on an issue of euthanasia.
Perhaps some see more votes - or less danger of lost votes - in matters of life rather than matters of death.
We remain in an extraordinary situation in which most Australians favour voluntary euthanasia by a wide margin but our political process refuses to even listen.
People can quibble but an ABC fact checking exercise last year looked at public opinion surveys by half a dozen pollsters from 2007 to 2016 and the "yes vote for voluntary assisted dying ranged from 71 per cent to 80 per cent.
The outlier was a 2011 National Church Life Survey which probably predictably found only 24 per cent agreed that people suffering a terminal illness should be able to ask a doctor to end their life. But even then there was a startling level of disagreement between the adherents to the various Christian denominations.
Interestingly, in the mainstream opinion polling, support for euthanasia falls dramatically if a patient's condition is not terminal and he or she is "mentally or emotionally suffering" rather than "physically suffering'', putting paid to fears that people respond to these surveys in a thoughtless or cavalier fashion.
Successive surveys suggest support for voluntary assisted dying is at least as strong - if not stronger - than for same-sex marriage.
Compare a high-water reading of 85 per cent for euthanasia (Newspoll 2009) with a postal survey result of 62 per cent for same sex marriage (61 per cent in Queensland) and you might reasonably wonder why we are waiting.
Yet, in Queensland, we are struggling to get a foot on the ladder of reform with the state Parliament's health committee only now pushing for parliamentary hearings on the issue.
Queensland is the only state never to have formally debated the issue and it seems our political leadership is no great hurry to change that.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington is against it, as was her party convention.
Labor, too, presents us with the contradiction of the Government backing a state conference move supporting euthanasia yet refusing to get on with it.
In my 72nd term, I can't think of too many issues of more importance.
Terry Sweetman is a Courier-Mail columnist.