Ironically, there was no mercy

Pro-euthanasia advocates met with disdain amendments that would have softened the effect of their dying laws on vulnerable patients

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Also voted down was a provision that would prevent a person who is significantly impacted by a mental health impairment from being given lethal drugs.
Also voted down was a provision that would prevent a person who is significantly impacted by a mental health impairment from being given lethal drugs.

Deliberately hostile. Proposed in bad faith. Cruel. Obstructionist.

This is the way in which amendments to the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill which passed NSW last week were described by pro-euthanasia advocates in parliament.

The likes of Alex Greenwich, Bronnie Taylor and Adam Searle did the media rounds in advance of Wednesday’s debate, doing their best to characterise those proposing amendments as using stalling tactics.

“The logic behind this was simple: we know that significant mental illness can affect a person’s decision-making capacity.”

Let’s consider some of the amendments proposed and voted down and see how accurate the criticism of the amendments and those who proposed them was.

One amendment proposed would have prevented doctors and other medical staff from initiating discussions about euthanasia and assisted suicide with their patients, meaning that the process could only begin if the patient raised it themselves.

Far from being hostile, this is a provision contained in the Victorian legislation.

A woman sits at the bedside of her mother in 2016 at de Greeff Hospice house in St. Louis. This special house, the only one of its kind in St. Louis, serves terminally ill individuals. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review) See PALLIATIVE-CARE-INITIATIVE Oct. 10, 2018.

It acknowledges the enormous ability doctors have to influence the decisions of their patients and recognises that most of us take the advice of our doctors without question. Unfortunately, it was voted down.

Also voted down was a provision that would prevent a person who is significantly impacted by a mental health impairment from being given lethal drugs.

The logic behind this was simple: we know that significant mental illness can affect a person’s decision-making capacity and, in particular, their ability to make free decisions and that some mental illnesses can lead to suicidal ideations.

“Another so-called ‘hostile’ amendment proposed that those requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide be offered free palliative care as well, in the hope that the fears of some patients that their pain will not be manageable at the end of life will be assuaged.”

The proposal to exclude such people from the euthanasia regime was described as ‘discriminatory.’

That was not the only amendment voted down that would have offered support for mental health. A mandatory referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist was also rejected on the grounds that it was an unnecessary hurdle to place in the way of death.

It is not only mental health care that was deemed unnecessary; it was also specialist care.

A mandatory referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist was also rejected on the grounds that it was an unnecessary hurdle to place in the way of death. Photo: 123rf.com
A mandatory referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist was also rejected on the grounds that it was an unnecessary hurdle to place in the way of death. Photo: 123rf.com

Even a very benign amendment that required a person with a terminal illness to be diagnosed with that illness by a specialist rather than by a GP was refused.

Without a hint of irony, Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann spoke against it in this way:

“At pretty much every hearing in remote and rural areas we heard, time and time again, just how bad the situation is regarding access to specialists, how expensive it is and what the waiting times are. We heard that there are no specialists available in rural and remote New South Wales, so trips to Sydney are often required.”

“The result of this amendment being voted down is that a patient is not required to receive information about palliative care from someone who actually practices in the area.”

I’ll write more about the situation in rural and regional NSW next week, but you’ve got to wonder at what goes through the mind of MLCs who label those who want to give those in the regions access to specialists before giving them access to lethal drugs as behaving in bad faith.

Palliative care was also a hot topic during the debate. Another so-called ‘hostile’ amendment proposed that those requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide be offered free palliative care as well, in the hope that the fears of some patients that their pain will not be manageable at the end of life will be assuaged.

This was voted down, alongside an even milder provision that required a person be required to consult with a palliative care physician before being given a deadly prescription.

A woman sits at the bedside of her mother in 2016 at de Greeff Hospice house in St. Louis. This special house, the only one of its kind in St. Louis, serves terminally ill individuals. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review) See PALLIATIVE-CARE-INITIATIVE Oct. 10, 2018.

The rejection of this amendment was particularly insidious given that so many euthanasia advocates, including many MPs, gravely misrepresented the ability of palliative care to alleviate suffering at the end of life.

In doing so, they have left the general public with an impression that is contrary to the reality and the testimony of so many palliative care physicians, that is, that the quality of palliative care in Australia is very good and only very few patients cannot be assisted by it.

The result of this amendment being voted down is that a patient is not required to receive information about palliative care from someone who actually practices in the area.

“Thank God for the brave few MLCs who spoke up, particularly Greg Donnelly and Damien Tudehope.”

Describing proposals that would have ensured those diagnosed with a terminal illness had been offered access to mental health professionals, specialists in their condition and palliative care physicians before they are prescribed lethal drugs as a denial of end-of-life choice is a manipulation of language that not even George Orwell could have imagined.

Thank God for the brave few MLCs who spoke up, particularly Greg Donnelly and Damien Tudehope.

While their voices were not heeded in the debate, history will show that there were still some whose mother tongue does not appear to be Newspeak.