October 21st 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reality of family unit must underlie tax system

EDITORIAL Christianity today: the challenges ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED Xenophon: a Mr Fixit or a political yo-yo?

DRUGS POLICY Science elbowed aside in rush for latest silver bullet: 'medical marijuana'

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE Decoys to revolutionary laws redefining sex and marriage

FOREIGN AFFAIRS What is the way out of the Catalan crisis?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Our barmy Army: all politically correct

FAMILY AND SOCIETY The child as weapon in Family Court process

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Faiths and the global future

KOREA Hermit Kingdom versus the Land of Morning Calm

MUSIC Hi-tech lo-fi: Resistance is futile

CINEMA Blade Runner 2049: A cypher unlocking a mystery

BOOK REVIEW The rebels

BOOK REVIEW An attempt to break through the fog


HUMOUR More excerpts from the forthcoming revision of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods


EUTHANASIA Victoria's death bill: questions that need answers

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE: George Christensen calls Parliament's attention to activists' end-game

EUTHANASIA Victoria mistakes killing for compassion

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Victoria mistakes killing for compassion

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, October 21, 2017

Will Victoria be the state where the terminally ill or those with incurable conditions are no longer worth treating? Where Australians from other states will seek “residence” in order to qualify to be prescribed a lethal substance to kill themselves? Where any claimed right to die may become a duty to die?

On October 20, 2017, the Victorian Legislative Assembly passed the Labor Government’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, by 47 votes to 37. Labor and Coalition MPs had a conscience vote. Six Labor members voted against the bill and five Coalition members voted for it. Two Liberal members were absent when the vote was taken.

The bill allows a person who is over 18 years of age, is ordinarily resident in Victoria, has decision-making capacity and has been diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is incurable and is expected to cause death within a period not exceeding 12 months and which is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable, to request to be provided with a lethal substance to end their life.

These may appear to be very stringent conditions, but a closer look reveals numerous loopholes. What does “ordinarily resident” in Victoria mean? Does it mean just having an address in Victoria? And for how long? Six months? Twelve months?

A person is deemed to have decision-making capacity if they can “understand the information relevant to the decision relating to access to voluntary assisted dying and the effect of the decision”. In other words can understand that they are asking for a lethal substance that will kill them if they ingest it or are injected with it. But a person’s judgement may be impaired by depression or mood disorders.

If the person does suffer from depression or other mental illness, why is an independent professional psychiatric assessment of whether it is the depression or mental illness that has led to the request for assisted suicide/euthanasia, rather than the terminal illness, not mandatory?

A person seeking assisted suicide or euthanasia must be informed of the palliative-care options available and the likely outcomes.

But neither of the medical practitioners assessing the patient is required to have specialist palliative-care knowledge or experience. How can a person make a truly informed choice if they do not receive full information from a palliative-care specialist?

Deputy Premier James Merlino proposed that the bill not be debated until the following concerns had been resolved:

  • Inequalities in access to best-practice palliative care.
  • Uncertainties about the substances to be used.
  • Risks of doctor shopping and of development of assisted-dying clinics.
  • Lack of adequate protections against family violence, elder abuse and prejudice against people living with disabilities.
  • Inadequate safeguards for people with depression or other mental illness.

This eminently reasonable approach was voted down, 47 votes to 39.

Numerous amendments to close loopholes in the bill were then proposed over the 25 hours of debate and every one was voted down. These included an amendment proposed by Liberal MP Robert Clark, Manager of Opposition Business, that the bill should require the lethal substance to be returned to the dispensing pharmacist pending the decision of VCAT in a case where VCAT had been asked to decide whether the patient had decision-making capacity.

Answers to questions directed to the Health Minister and the Attorney-General were in the most part highly unsatisfactory: they simply ignored the substance of the points being made.

A Liberal MP, who worked as a nurse before entering Parliament, asked how the bill protected a palliative-care nurse with a conscientious objection called out to an emergency situation when a patient taking the lethal substance legally provided under the bill to end their life has complications and things do not go as expected. The Health Minister simply quoted clause 7 of the bill: that “a registered health practitioner who has a conscientious objection … has the right” not to be involved in the process.

But what is that nurse to do? Does clause 7 protect the nurse if, in conscience he or she renders assistance? Or is he or she required to let the patient die, however long it takes? The Health Minister did not answer the question.

There seemed to be a determination to get the bill through and no amendment was to be allowed, not even to clarify how the legislation is to operate. Reason did not prevail.

The bill now goes to the Legislative Council. It is to be hoped that, with more time to reflect on the consequences after the long debate in the lower house, and having observed the bloodymindedness with which all reasonable opposition was quashed in the lower house that the upper house will vote it down.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm