Doctors in New South Wales would be given the power to help kill their terminally ill patients if requested, under a bill introduced to State Parliament today.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill allows doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients with a lethal drug with which to kill themselves, and to “assist” the patient to die if asked. The patient may also nominate another person to administer the drug to them.
The bill, which was introduced to the Legislative Council this morning, was drafted by a cross party parliamentary working group formed by proponents of euthanasia/assisted suicide.
The members of the ad hoc group include Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi, Labor MLC Lynda Voltz, Liberal MP Lee Evans and Independent MP Alex Greenwich.
The bill is likely to be debated in the Legislative Council next month before being put to a conscience vote. If it passes, it will then go to the Legislative Assembly, where it would be scheduled for debate in November.
The bill would give a person over the age of 25 the right to request assistance from a doctor to end their life. They must be experiencing severe pain or physical incapacity, and be likely to die within 12 months. Patients must be assessed by their primary doctor, then a specialist, as well as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Once their request has been approved, there will be a 48 hour cooling off period before they are then allowed to self-administer a lethal substance, or to be assisted to do so by a medical practitioner or a nominated person.
Labor MLC Greg Donnelly, who opposes the legislation, said it would open the door to a dangerous shift in the doctor-patient relationship.
“Our medical system does not permit killing,” he said. “This is why this legislation is such a radical shift and a dangerous shift. We help people through to the end. We don’t kill them.”
Mr Donnelly said a recent Parliamentary inquiry he chaired into elder abuse, and a Commonwealth Law Reform Commission report on the same topic, uncovered shocking examples of frail, aged people being coerced by their family members for financial incentives.
“We know that there is a high financial incentive to move things along when it comes to elderly relatives,” he said. “Imagine how much higher this incentive would be if euthanasia laws existed.”
While opinion polls continue to show support for euthanasia, Mr Donnelly said a petition which already has more than 30,000 signatures will be presented to the Parliament next month, signed by people opposed to the bill.
Both Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Opposition Leader Luke Foley are on the public record as opposing the bill.
This morning Mr Donnelly hosted a public forum in the Parliament House Theatrette, with prominent speakers outlining the case against the bill.
Professor Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Medicine, Sydney, urged MPs to look at the history and the human memory surrounding the notion of doctors killing their patients.
“We have to ask why has society banned this up to now? What are the risks of it, particularly to vulnerable individuals, but also the risk to societal institutions such as medicine and law? These are the two institutions in secular life that carry the foundation of respect for life.”
Professor Somerville dismissed the so-called safeguards in the bill, saying the evidence from overseas, particularly from the Netherlands and Belgium, is that “safeguards simply don’t work”.
“Once you cross the line which says ‘we must not kill another human being’, there is no logical stopping point,” she said.