Catholic hospitals face a battle in Tasmania

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woman with elderly man in wheelchair.
Faith-based organisations should not be forced to offer assisted suicide, say critics of Tasmanian MP Mike Gaffney’s bill.

No protection for organisations in assisted suicide bill

Health, legal and pro-life experts are battling an attempt to force faith-based hospitals and aged care facilities in Tasmania to offer assisted suicide on their premises.

The state’s extreme bill passed its upper house this month and will now be examined by an inquiry conducted by the University of Tasmania before it is presented in the lower house.

In its current form, the proposed law would allow for individual doctors to conscientiously object to being involved in assisted suicide, but not health and aged care organisations or facilities.

“Many doctors and other health professionals consider euthanasia to be inconsistent with patient care.”– Branka van der Linden

In contrast, Victoria and Western Australia both allow hospitals and aged care facilities to opt out of their state’s assisted suicide regimes.

Chief executive of Catholic Health Australia Pat Garcia told media that he believed the bill should be subject to a lengthy period of public scrutiny and public hearings as an exposure draft, before being presented for a vote in the House of Assembly.

CHA agencies operate four hospitals and nine aged-care homes in the state and Mr Garcia has been pressing for greater government investment in palliative care before the legalising of assisted suicide.

Nurse prepares needle for hospital patient
The End Of Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill was tabled in parliament in late August with the hope of being passed this year.

The peak organisation “does not believe intentional killing is consistent with good medicine or the Catholic ethic of compassionate care which has marked the practice of medicine for millennia,” Mr Garcia said.
Director of HOPE Branka van der Linden said the attempt to exclude faith-based institutions from taking their place in society is “clear bias” and revealed a misunderstanding of the nature of objection to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Plan reveals a ‘clear bias’ against faith-based care

“Some people and institutions have an objection to these based on their religious beliefs, but many more object because providing a patient with lethal drugs is neither health care nor aged care,” she said.

“Some hospitals and aged care facilities want to simply continue providing services to their patients and residents that are focused on healing, on life-affirming treatment and to caring for a person as they approach the end-of-life.

“Many doctors and other health professionals consider euthanasia to be inconsistent with patient care, which is why both the World Medical Association and the Australian Medical Association remain opposed to this practice.”

Catholic health care’s principals of compassion and the use of the best medical care are incompatible with euthanasia, says Catholic Heath Australia CEO Pat Garcia.

Live and Die Well spokesperson Ben Smith welcomed Premier Peter Gutwein’s decision to order the independent review. “The input of experts from a number of fields such as law, health and the social sciences has been lacking in the development of this piece of legislation and it is wonderful to see that key stakeholder groups will at last be given a chance to make submissions to an independent and transparent review panel,” Mr Smith said.

“It is encouraging that the Premier has requested the UTAS review panel to focus on the protections in place for the most vulnerable in our society in similar legislation in Australia and in the rest of the world.

“The UTAS review panel will also look into end of life issues such as palliative care and advanced care directives and we hope that they can get to the bottom of why some people in Tasmania might unnecessarily be experiencing intolerable suffering as they approach the end of their life.”

Catholic healthcare: there for everyone who’s sick

In a letter to Premier Gutwein, the Anglican Reverend Michael Kellahan, executive director of the Freedom for Faith legal think tank, wrote that requiring faith-based organisations a choice of either offering euthanasia and assisted suicide or closing would be seen by many “as an overreach of the state”.

“Tasmanian citizens and religious organisations operating in Tasmania must not be asked to make this choice, particularly where their convictions are being expressed in extravagant concern for the aged and vulnerable,” he wrote.

The bill’s author, Mike Gaffney MLC, says there is no need to delay the passing of the bill and that in a secular society no faith-based facility should be able to prevent euthanasia and assisted suicide occurring on their premises.

“If this becomes law, it is … a legal choice, so why would any institution deny a person access to adequate or correct medical assistance?” he told media.  “[Voluntary assisted dying] is not suicide; it’s a legal, medical option.”

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