An open letter to the dying with dignity movement

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Note: this post is not arguing the merits of euthanasia. It is a letter from a sympathetic marketer with experience in the cause, written in frustration. No offence is intended. Comments on the campaigning aspects of euthanasia are welcome. This is not the place for comments on the rights or wrongs of euthanasia. Note also: whatever your issue – if it’s failing to gain traction – this is for you.

Dear Dying With Dignity Community,

Our position on the issue: we don’t know about you but we here at Hootville would like to die with minimal pain and suffering at a time of our choosing.

When the time comes (not before) and the medical options run out we want a legal guarantee that we will be offered a secure way out of our suffering. We don’t want to force this choice on anyone else but we sure as hell don’t want people we haven’t met, institutions we don’t believe in and politicians we didn’t vote for extension our misery. In short – we want voluntary euthanasia and wish you well in your ongoing struggle.

euthanasia campaign

We could have been a contender.

Declaration: a few years back Hootville worked with Dying With Dignity Victoria and a national coalition of similar organisations to help create the campaign which was the first national, co-ordinated campaign. It went OK but could have / should have achieved much more.

Since then we’ve watched the issue continue to be the single greatest under-performing social issue in Australia. Today’s media coverage of Dr Rodney Syme inspired us to pen this blog.


Dr Syme made headlines with his admission. He shouldn't need to.

We recall Dr Syme telling us that he was holding his declaration – that he provided a patient who later took his own life with the drug Nembutal – up his sleeve as a way to highlight the issue. We didn’t like the idea then, nor do we today. It may get this good man in a lot of hot water. It could see him imprisoned or de-registered as a doctor.

It’s time to admit failure on the campaigning front and adopt an entirely different approach, more akin to the way contemporary campaigns work.

We declare this sorry state of affairs based on your issue’s utter lack of progress, failure to establish any significant community-based support group, the absence of legal reforms, ballot-box political pressure or ongoing debate on the issue beyond scattershot media coverage.

Too harsh? Here’s a list of some groups / issues currently out-performing you:

  • live cattle;
  • puppies born in puppy farms;
  • asylum seekers;
  • transgendered people;
  • homosexuals;
  • the disabled;
  • victims of domestic violence;
  • the corral in the barrier reef;
  • farmers affected by fracking;
  • victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.

These groups are a laundry list of disenfranchised, under-resourced, abused, neglected and unorganised – yet each of them outperform you week-in, week-out in the battle for media space, barbeque discussions and political response. (See graph below.)

The status quo is unacceptable. How the hell can all these people / causes be out-campaigning you when you have all this on your side:

  • death currently affects 100% of humans;
  • people are terrified of a painful, helpless, lingering death;
  • almost everyone has a story of a loved one who dies in awful circumstances;
  • the attitudes of our newly ageing people are changing from passive and communal to demanding and individualistic;
  • media will always be interested in the issue;
  • Australia is extremely secular and the stocks of the church (a key opponent) has never been lower,
  • your proposal won’t cost any money;
  • euthanasia is already being unofficially practiced across hospital wards and nursing homes;
  • your alleged overwhelming public support?

This is a beautiful starting point. So how are you going win?

1. Stop thinking of yourselves as a law-reform issue. Who wants to get behind that? The reform will come when you become a campaign, a movement and a successful one at that. We have noticed that even our weak, conservative political class will make a move if you’ve got enough votes behind you. Campaigners shouldn’t wasting their time talking to pollies or doctors reform groups or the palliative care folk. Forget the private members’ bills in off-Broadway states. This isn’t a question of law – it’s a question of making the status quo a political liability. This is impossible without the threat of large batches of votes. The legal reforms will follow the social.

It’s time (for the first time) to really reach out to the entire population of the country of all classes – not the political class or the old communistas. The three million of us aged 65+ would be a good place to start but ageing affects everyone over 45 with parents. What a whopping target audience.

2. A grown-up, well-resourced, hardcore campaigning team is required. No empire builders. This team needs to be free of the people who failed to date. Get the right people and (mostly) go with their advice.

euthanasia campaign in nsw

Unlikely to inspire new supporters.

3. No wheel reinvention is required – just a great website, constantly updated, eMarketing, social media, surveys, media coverage, public events type campaign. That’s a lot of work by the way and even more work if it is to be done well.

4. Find the money. Anyone claiming that this cannot be afforded should read this next sentence. It could easily be afforded. Ask the public to crowd-fund $300,000 for a three year campaign and we daresay you’d get it.

5. Consider adopting the term euthanasia – it’s simpler and less twee. “Marriage equity” and “equal love” have never been as popular as “gay marriage”.

6. Be obsessed with numbers – of supporters, email subscribers, donors, followers. The more you have, the more you can do. How many years have you existed? How many people on your database? You should have 200,000+. Remember that there are 19 million adults in Australia.

how to market voluntary euthanasia

Even PETA has a lighter side.

7. Stop being so worthy. Campaigns about serious matters can still look good, have some wit and thus attract more people. Nobody wants to read drab, text-dense emails.  Even campaigners such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) which is hardcore as it comes, occasionally opts for the silly and the sexy.  Have some pride and panache – campaign as slickly as every other cause and consumer product. Lose the conferences and symposia – put that energy reaching NEW people.

8. Remember – your campaign must emphasise that euthanasia is all about the individual. In this case – letting the individual die without excruciating pain and meaningless, invasive undignified treatments when all hope is gone. No other product on the market can offer that. Have you noticed how entirely selfish and comfort-driven we have become as a society? How we fear and detest death? Guess what – these trends work in your favour – exploit it!

Forget talk of “civil rights” – that was America in the 1960s. We DO NOT HAVE any history of a civil rights movement the way the USA does. (Most of that country ain’t got euthanasia neither.) The term “human rights” is a turn-off. Do not use it. It hasn’t worked for the asylum seeker cause and it won’t work for you.

social marketing issues in Australia

Unscientific, subjective but pretty much accurate. Why do issues with such low relevance make so much impact? The secret is in the marketing.

9. Existing groups need to give up their state-based powerbases and unite. Forget the dreary websites, the lack of media connections, the uncohesive approach. The approach needs to be national. The more streamlined and cohesive the better. We’re sick of seeing good ideas and skills fail to spread.

10. Media is generally very sympathetic in its coverage of your issue but never ever allow a story like this one again. It made a Aina Ranke’s sympathetic case study less sympathetic. Ms Ranke speaking in the article:

“Tomorrow I have a Home Care lady who I adore. She is a beautiful young woman. She comes to clean and hang out my washing. And then she comes back a few hours later to bring the washing in. So what I plan is for it to be nice and quick and I will time the taking of it [the Nembutal].

“I will ask her what time she will be back and I will take the barbiturate in enough time, so that I can be deceased when she arrives,” said Ms Ranke.

Does the Home Care woman know of this plan? “No, I am not telling her. I have written her a note asking her if she can forgive me for having to find me in this predicament on her shift.

Those who left comments on the article did not like this idea at all. Even worse – the plan didn’t pan out as intended. Certainly not the image you wish to portray.

Note: since the original posting we have re-written point 10 to add clarity and lose the “loony left” phrase.  That was unhelpful.

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