Distress at dying law plans in Tasmania

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Archbishop Julian Porteous addresses media in Tasmania in 2017. PHOTO: Archdiocese of Hobart

Proposed laws to be tabled in Parliament in September

Pro-life leaders are appalled that an assisted suicide campaign in Tasmania will continue with minimal delay despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Independent MLC Mike Gaffney will introduce his private members bill to the Parliament’s upper house in September, after it was originally slated for August.

The End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 it is the most extreme assisted dying regime the country has yet seen. It would allow assisted suicide for those who are not terminally ill, not currently experiencing physical or emotional suffering in relation to their medical condition, and without the need to be seen by a specialist doctor.

It comes as New Zealand also prepares to go ahead with its planned referendum on euthanasia in September.

“When the elderly and vulnerable are isolated and anxious, while the government and community fight to protect and save their lives, how can (Mr Gaffney) promote assisted suicide?” said Australian Christian Lobby’s acting Tasmanian director Christopher Brohier.

“He should learn from NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro, who pulled Nationals MP Trevor Khan into line for promoting assisted suicide during the bushfire crisis earlier in the year.

“We need consistent messaging from Tasmanian MPs that elderly vulnerable lives are worth saving”

“Whilst Mr Gaffney is saying COVID-19 responses will take precedence, he should cancel his campaign for assisted suicide indefinitely. We need a statewide and national united front in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. We also need consistent messaging from Tasmanian MPs that elderly vulnerable lives are worth saving.”

The Tasmanian Australian Medical Association (AMA) is also “strongly opposed” to the push. “A doctor’s role is to care for patients, to treat them, provide comfort and support, and to relieve suffering, but not to intentionally end a patient’s life,” Tasmanian AMA President Professor John Burgess told media.

Professor Burgess also said the timing of the Bill’s introduction this year is inappropriate, as the circumstances around the pandemic impede an effective consultation process.

“Simply no safe way” to legislate assisted dying

The Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous has repeatedly said that the sick and dying need to be treated with the best possible care and compassion and warned that any assisted suicide regime would put vulnerable people at risk. “There is simply no safe way of legislating for euthanasia and assisted dying that does not fundamentally threaten the lives of the vulnerable in our society,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“People’s suffering and pain should be relieved in a way consistent with the dignity of human life through the use of palliative care in the final phase of their life.”

The Bill lists “disease, illness, injury, or medical condition, of the person that is serious, incurable and irreversible” as relevant medical conditions under which Tasmanian residents over 18 would access the regime.

A person would be eligible if they had “intolerable suffering” caused by the relevant medical condition, or its treatment, or anticipation of the suffering that may arise from these.

The Tasmanian Parliament has voted down similar bills three times already, most recently in 2017. This is the first to be introduced and debated in the Upper House.

Mr Gaffney said he is confident it will be passed into law this year. It if is, it would make Tasmania the third Australian state with an assisted suicide regime after Victoria and Western Australia which passed their laws in 2017 and 2019 respectively. “The primary purpose for me for this Bill is to give people a choice,” Mr Gaffney told media.

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