Tasmanian euthanasia bill radical and dangerous

Dr Marion Harris warns that the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill currently before the Tasmanian Parliament is even more radical and dangerous than the law which has been in operation in Victoria since June 2019 that was responsible for 124 deaths by lethal poison in the first 12 months. Her opinion piece was first published in The Advocate on 1 September 2020

Associate Professor Marion Harris is a Medical oncologist in Melbourne

It permits maximum access at the expense of safety. It is one of the most liberal pieces of euthanasia legislation in the world.

Its eligibility criteria are broad and its safeguards few.

Any competent adult with a serious incurable medical condition, excluding a mental health condition, who claims to have - or to just anticipate - intolerable suffering, (which can only be self- determined) is eligible.

There is no need to be terminally ill. This isn't just for those who are dying. It is also for those with years left to live.

Osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis), epilepsy, chronic airway disease, frailty, and diabetes are all conditions that would meet the criteria.

Any adult in Tasmania who develops depression with its associated suicidal tendencies and impaired judgement who also has another condition would be eligible.

They could then be prescribed or administered lethal drugs to end their lives -within as brief a period as one week from a first request.

This leaves little time for a change of mind about an irreversible decision. There is no obligation to inform relatives who may be left to find out after the event.

Assessing doctors or nurses don't have to know the person beforehand and are not required to meet them face to face before the time of lethal drug administration, as all assessments can be undertaken via telehealth.

The two assessors need no specialist qualifications in the person's illness or in palliative care, and there is no minimum years of medical experience required.

An orthopaedic surgeon and a pathologist could enable the person to end his or her life, as could a newly graduated doctor.

The only requirement is that assessors have completed a one day online course.

The bill also mandates a consideration of extending access to children within two years of its passing.

In Victoria after one year of legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide we have staff in many palliative care units who remain divided on the issue.

Doctors in some public hospitals have had their rights to conscientious objection disrespected.

Some family members will remain forever upset that their relative was given access to lethal drugs.

Other family members have been deceived that their close relative died naturally.

Assessing doctors are hard to find and a few are doing most of the prescribing and administering of lethal drugs, as doctors vote with their feet on this issue.

The Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board only reviews cases after death - too late.

Palliative care services in Victoria remain underfunded especially regionally and in aged care services.

We're not told how much money the government has saved when people have accessed "voluntary assisted dying" instead of care services that might have helped them to live well.

Legalising the prescription and administration of lethal drugs for the purpose of ending a life crosses the line that says not to kill a fellow human person - even if they ask you to.

It offers a message of despair and hopelessness that cannot be known to be true.

The ill, elderly or disabled struggling to secure support services may feel obligated to speed up the inevitable and not be a burden to others.

Those with serious illnesses are placed at risk when a setback (like the recurrence of a cancer) occurs.

They may be overcome by fear or despair, seek an end to life and be dead very quickly. Some of these people may throw away months or even years of life.

With access to high quality specialist palliative care services in 2020 "voluntary assisted dying" is not needed for the terminally ill who can always be cared for.

Most medical societies worldwide including the Australian Medical Association oppose the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The End of Life bill is about far more than individual autonomy and the desire for a controlled death.

It would profoundly affect families, the practice of medicine and all of society.

Most significantly, it would radically affect how we value the lives of those around us and how we value ourselves by affirming that some lives are not worth living.

For these reasons and for the benefit of Tasmanians current and future, politicians should vote to oppose this dangerous bill.


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