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's death bill: questions that need answers

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, October 21, 2017

An assisted-suicide/euthanasia bill has been introduced into Victoria’s Legislative Assembly. But the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 raises even more questions than it contains “safeguards”.

To be eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia a person must be “ordinarily resident in Victoria” (clause 9). Does this mean just having an address in Victoria? And, for how long? Six months? Twelve months?

In Oregon, where there is an assisted-suicide law, factors demonstrating Oregon residency include possession of an Oregon driver’s licence, registration to vote in Oregon, evidence of renting or owning property in Oregon, and filing an Oregon state tax return for the most recent tax year. None of these require actually residing in Oregon. What will be required for a person to establish residence in Victoria?

A person must have “decision-making capacity”, which is patently obvious if assistance to suicide or euthanasia is to be voluntary as the bill’s title proclaims. However, on examination, clause 4, “Meaning of decision-making capacity”, is alarming.

A person has 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, that they are asking for a lethal substance that will kill them if they ingest it or are injected with it.

What about awareness of why they are asking for assistance to kill themselves or to be killed? Or what effect their decision may have on others, such as family members? And they only have to retain that information “to the extent necessary to make the decision”.

Information relevant to the decision can be “given in a way that is appropriate to the person’s circumstances, whether by using modified language, visual aids or any other means”. If a person needs “modified language” or “visual aids”, it may suggest the person may not have “decision-making capacity”. Shouldn’t expert advice be sought about whether the person understands the decision?

A person can be taken to have “decision-making capacity” if they can communicate the decision “in some way, including by … gestures or other means”. How can anyone be sure what exactly another person is communicating if they are only able to communicate by “gestures”?

A person may have “decision-making capacity” for some decisions and not others. If there is incapacity regarding any decisions, then why would the person be presumed to have capacity to make a life-or-death decision to request assisted suicide or euthanasia?

A person has to be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is “expected to cause death within weeks or months, not exceeding 12 months”. But a definite prognosis of when death is to be expected can be very uncertain.

The bill also does not require that either of the two doctors who are to assess whether a person is eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia make their own independent prognosis of how much time the person may have to live. They can both rely on the prognosis of another, such as a specialist the patient may have consulted. This means no second opinion on how long the patient may have to live.

The bill (clause 19 (1)(c) and clause 28 (1)(c)) requires a person seeking assisted suicide or euthanasia to be informed of 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?

A major concern with legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia is the risk of coercion of vulnerable people. The bill does require a person to declare that they are making the request voluntarily and without coercion (clause 34 (2)(a)(1)). But if they are being coerced into making the request, isn’t it likely they are also being coerced into signing the declaration that they do so voluntarily and without coercion?

A person requesting assisted suicide must appoint a “contact person” who is to return to the dispensing pharmacist any unused or remaining substance after the person’s death (clause 39 and clause 89).

However, as the “contact person” is not required to be present when the person takes the substance, how are they to know if any of the substance is unused or remains?

A medical practitioner who has a conscientious objection has the right (clause 7) to refuse to provide information about or to participate in any way with the assisted-suicide or euthanasia process. However, if a patient makes a request, would the medical practitioner have to refer the patient to another medical practitioner under a general “duty of care” for the patient?

The bill provides that the cause of death is to be recorded as the disease, illness or medical condition that was grounds for the deceased’s access to the lethal substance (clause 117). Is it not important to record of the actual cause of death?

If the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill becomes law the state of Victoria will have expanded “health services” available to residents to include providing lethal substances to assist them to take their own lives (clause 137).

A rather dubious benefit.

The Liberal Opposition has announced a generous investment in palliative-care services, which will be of great benefit in providing dignified end-of-life care for all Victorians.

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