QLD joins SA in debating euthanasia, NSW will be next

Queensland will join South Australia in debating a Euthanasia bill, deciding whether to take after Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania in legalising assisted suicide. The Western Australia law comes into effect on July 1.

A bill will be presented to the Queensland Parliament next week. In South Australia, a bill has been passed by the upper house, but there is reportedly intense debate in the Liberal party over whether to bring it before the lower house.

Independent member of the NSW Parliament Alex Greenwich has stated that he plans to bring a “Voluntary Assisted Dying” bill to that state’s parliament in September.

The South Australian bill is based on the 2017 Victorian law which provides for assisted death for restricted classes of people

  • A person must be suffering from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition, and experiencing intolerable suffering.
  • The condition must be assessed by two medical practitioners to be expected to cause death within six months (an exception exists for a person suffering from a neurodegenerative condition, where instead the condition must be expected to cause death within 12 months).
  • A person must be over the age of 18 and have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months and have decision-making capacity.

The Queensland Law Reform Commission has recommended a similar arrangement, but with a twelve-month provision.

“There is a lot of opposition to the legalisation of assisted suicide in Queensland, and our small army of supporters will do our best to protect life at the end of life and push for an increase to palliative care funding in line with Palliative Care Queensland’s recommendation of an extra $275 million per year,” says Teeshan Johnson, executive director of Cherish Life.

“At first look, the proposed assisted suicide legislation is extremely dangerous – it contains no safeguards against wrongful deaths and does nothing to correct Queensland’s gross palliative care deficit of $275 million per year. The $171 million increase the Premier cited in her press conference this morning is spread over 6 years and equates to only $28.5 million per year.”

The Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship strongly opposes euthanasia.

“We have great concern for those who suffer with terminal illness and agree that end of life care needs to be improved. We are, however, very concerned about the recent moves across Australia to legalise euthanasia and physician assisted suicide,” the Fellowship states.

“We agree with the World Medical Association that the practice of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. It is in conflict with basic ethical principles of medical practice and we reject suggestions that these practices constitute a form of medical care.

“The experience of jurisdictions such as Oregon USA and Canada, who have already legislated to allow euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, reveals that it is not possible to legislate in such a way that wrongful deaths do not occur.  We believe it is wrong for a doctor to kill a patient or to facilitate their suicide.

“We particularly oppose the suggestion that laws to allow such practices should be proposed at this time, when findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission has outlined a crisis in aged care in this country, and the provision of palliative care has been shown to be inadequate.”

“I call it narcissistic unawareness, that the people who want euthanasia do not want to admit that the protections don’t work.” – Margaret Somerville

In an Eternity article experts Megan Best and Margaret Somerville put forward the cases against euthanasia.

Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics at Notre Dame University’s School of Medicine, highlighted weaknesses in safeguards.

“The first thing we have to recognise is that the protections don’t work and we’ve got plenty of evidence of that. I call it narcissistic unawareness, that the people who want euthanasia do not want to admit that the protections don’t work. The tragedy in Canada is that the courts accepted that the protections were fine, and that vulnerable people would not be at risk, but that is simply wrong,” she said.

“The Supreme Court of Ireland looked at the evidence given to the Supreme Court in Canada and said ‘we come to exactly the opposite conclusion from the Canadian courts; we think that this evidence shows strong evidence of abuse’. In fact, it does, and we’ve tried to reintroduce evidence into the Canadian courts on appeal and on the whole it was refused, and then…  the Supreme Court of South Africa said no to euthanasia including because the protections don’t work.”

Megan Best, a Research Associate with the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney with a clinical background in Palliative Medicine, also sees problems with drafting a euthanasia law.

“I don’t think it’s possible to write a law that can’t be abused. If you look at jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia has been legal, even in the Northern Territory from 1995-97, the law has been abused. It’s the nature of human beings. There will always be some people who abuse the law,” she said. “I believe end of life care should be left as an issue between the clinician and the patient to help the patient get the best quality of life they can in the time they have left.

“I also believe that a lot of the suffering at the end of life which motivates the call for euthanasia is based on existential distress as much a physical distress. Physical distress could be improved by greater access to palliative care. While we don’t have universal access to palliative care it is immoral to pass a euthanasia law. I also think that while we have insufficient support for people with disability, it is immoral to pass a euthanasia law.”

Best is concerned that legislating for assisted dying both exposes vulnerable people to pressure to die, and goes against the biblical command “thou shall not kill.”

“… the dangers of euthanasia are based on what would happen if we changed the law for the whole community. So at the present time, an individual is free to end their own life under our law if they want to. But they certainly shouldn’t be allowed to compel someone else to kill them, and in the places where euthanasia has been legalised, even when strict guidelines have been in the legislation, we have seen abuse where vulnerable people are killed without their knowledge or consent.”

“Voluntary Assisted Dying as an end of life choice is supported by 77 per cent of those who identify as Catholic according to Vote Compass 2019.” – Ian Woods, Christians Supporting VAD

Ian Woods of the group ‘Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD)’ believes that palliative care and voluntary assisted dying can interact positively. The strongest point he makes concerns the overall popularity of making a change in the law.

“VAD as an end of life choice is supported by 77 per cent of those who identify as Catholic according to Vote Compass 2019. Protestants are 76 per cent in support and the general population is 87 per cent support,” he says, referring to a study with 450,000+ respondents.

“Even with optimal palliative care, some 5 per cent of persons have suffering they find intolerable as they are dying. The person is already approaching death, so they cannot choose between life and death (as with a suicide) but VAD does give them a choice about how they might die, by putting them in control.”

“It may seem paradoxical, but VAD is palliative in its own right.  When a person is given the ‘green light’ for VAD, it almost invariably gives them great peace of mind, and many then go on to live longer and have a better quality of life for their remaining days, than those who do not request assistance. It removes the toxic fear of how they might die,” Woods says.

“Data from Oregon, with VAD since 1997, shows 30 per cent of those given the medication do not proceed to use it – it is like an insurance policy you hope you will never need. On the other hand, 90 per cent of Oregonians who did use their VAD medication were also in some form of hospice care.”