Euthanasia for Queenslanders with a condition that will cause death some day
Legalising euthanasia for any Queensland adult with a medical condition that two doctors or nurses think “will cause death” someday has been recommended by a parliamentary committee.
The Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee of the Queensland Parliament has, in a report tabled on 31 March 2020, recommended that “the Queensland Government use the well-considered draft legislation submitted to the inquiry by Professors Lindy Willmott and Ben White as the basis for a legislative scheme for voluntary assisted dying.”
That draft legislation would legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide for any person over 18 years of age, with “an incurable, advanced and progressive medical condition that” two doctors say “will cause death”.
The Committee recommended also allowing two registered nurses to make the eligibility assessment and one of the nurses to administer the lethal poison to kill the person.
Unlike the Victorian or Western Australian laws the draft legislation would require a registered medical practitioner to be present if the prescribed lethal substance is self-administered.
There would, however, be no requirement for the medical practitioner (or nurse) to remain with the person after the lethal poison is administered either by the person or by the medical practitioner or nurse.
Interestingly, Willmott and White note:
Given that where choice is available, practitioner administration [i.e. euthanasia] is overwhelmingly chosen, these disadvantages [the inconvenience of requiring a medical practitioner to be present] are only likely to arise in the small number of voluntary assisted dying cases where a person specifically wants to self-administer [assisted suicide].
Section 10 of the draft legislation makes it clear that whether a person’s medical condition will cause the person’s death is to be determined by reference to available medical treatment that is acceptable to the person. This means, for example, that any insulin dependent diabetic would qualify simply by deciding no longer to take insulin.
The section also makes it clear that the suffering element is purely subjective and could be limited to existential suffering (such as feeling like a burden on others).
The draft legislation would require a medical practitioner with a conscientious objection to euthanasia to refer the person to a medical practitioner willing to perform it.
Like the laws in Victoria and Western Australia, the draft legislation would allow both an initial and final request for euthanasia to be made by a gesture.
Rejecting evidence presented by the Australian Care Alliance (see p. 22-24) about suicide contagion where assisted suicide has been legalised the Committee claims that:
temporary suicidal ideation is quite distinct from an enduring, considered and rational decision to end one’s life in the face of unbearable suffering. Given this distinction, the committee considers that a decision to legislate for the introduction of voluntary assisted dying [euthanasia and assisted suicide] is not inconsistent with suicide prevention campaigns and messaging.
The Committee does recommend adding a provision to the draft legislation that only the person may instigate a discussion about euthanasia or assisted suicide.
The Committee suggests that further consideration be given as to whether euthanasia by advanced directive should also be allowed.
The Greens member of the Committee, Mr Michael Berkman, favours the use of advanced directives as well as allowing children to request euthanasia.
The two LNP members of the Committee rejected the key recommendation:
This recommendation is not supported with any written assessment of the document. As the Report does not show the Committee undertook a detailed analysis it is very difficult to conclude that the “draft legislation” is “well considered.” There is also no evidence in the Report that the Bill was disseminated to stakeholders nor detailed evidence taken from them including professional bodies as to whether or not the Bill should be put forward as “draft legislation”. This is a fundamental breach of any Committee’s obligation. If it is to recommend a Bill, then the Report should and must provide a rigorous assessment undertaken with all stakeholders.
It seems unlikely that any Bill would be introduced before the Queensland State election which is due on 31 October 2020.
The Premier's office has said that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's focus was "100 per cent on the state's response to COVID-19".
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