Calls grow for death law inquiry

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Archbishop Julian Porteous says draft assisted suicide law needs independent expert scrutiny. PHOTO: Archdiocese of Hobart

Medical, political and faith leaders demand scrutiny of Tasmania’s draft assisted suicide legislation

Demand for an inquiry into Tasmania’s proposed assisted suicide law is growing as elected leaders prepare to debate it in the Legislative Council on 15 September.

More than 800 Australian health professionals published an open letter calling on Premier Peter Gutwein to support an inquiry into the private member’s bill, following similar requests from Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous and advocacy groups. 

“We 
believe that crossing the line to intentionally assist a person to suicide would fundamentally weaken the doctor-patient relationship, which is based on trust and respect,” the medical professionals wrote last week.

We are especially concerned with protecting vulnerable people who can feel they have become a burden to others”

We are especially concerned with protecting vulnerable people who can feel they have become a burden to others, and are committed to supporting those who find their own life situations a heavy burden.” 

Signatories included the chief executive officer of Catholic Health Australia Suzanne Greenwood and University of Notre Dame Australia’s Professor David Kissane, along with general practitioners, specialist doctors and allied health professionals based in Tasmania.
 

The letter came on the heels of a leaked analysis ordered by Premier Gutwein which offered a damning review of the bill.  

F
ormer Governor of Tasmania and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Hon. William Cox AC, has also written to members of the Legislative Council expressing deep concerns about the draft legislation. 

In his latest pastoral letter Archbishop Porteous criticised the lack of expert scrutiny of the bill through an independent inquiry process.  “Provisions of the bill go much further than existing legislation in Victoria and Western Australia,” he warned. 

elderly person in hospice bed.
The fourth attempt to introduce assisted suicide law in Tasmania gets underway in parliament this week.

Ben Smith, spokesperson for Live and Die Well, said that last-minute undisclosed amendments flagged by Mr Gaffney last Friday afternoon further confirm the need for a proper inquiry into the bill. 

He pointed out 
that every other state that has enacted assisted suicide legislation, and those currently considering doing so, have at least conducted a substantial parliamentary inquiry over a period of at least 12 months before voting on such legislation. 

“Yet Mr Gaffney wants to rush his dangerous legislation 
through the parliament with nothing more than sham-consultation on the principle of the bill, but nothing on the detail,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Gaffney said he was n
ot concerned about the 33 points raised by the Premier’s and other government departments in response to the 157-page bill. 

“I’m actually quite i
mpressed with the bill itself, the fact that’s the only amount, and I would have thought there might have been more,” he told media. “Hopefully I will get access to heads of departments so I can talk to them about their concerns and address the issues.”  

The leaked analysis 
includes questions over how a proposed Commissioner of Voluntary Assisted Dying would be funded, and the one-year implementation timeline at a time when Government resources are being pulled into dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The implementation time-frame of up to one year under current circumstances is insufficient,” it said.
“Government departments have significant existing resources allocated to responding to COVID-19, which has an unpredictable future.” 

It also raised s
erious concerns about how decisionmaking capacity is determined for people with a disability and the potential for incorrect diagnosis by non-specialist doctors.

In its current state, assisted suicide in the state would be open to any competent adult with a serious incurable medical condition, excluding a mental health condition, who claims to have intolerable suffering, or is anticipating future intolerable suffering. The person would not need to be terminally ill.

The bill does not include important safeguards which are present in the Victorian and West Australian assisted suicide laws.

It will allow a doctor to sign-off on a patient’s death without having examined the person, while the time-frame between a person’s initial and final request for death can be as short as four days.

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