New euthanasia/assisted suicide law in Australia

Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017

Sean Murphy*

Introduction
On 19 April, 2018, the legislature of the State of Victoria, Australia, passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, which will come into force in June, 2019.  It is currently the most restrictive euthanasia/assisted suicide (EAS) legislation in the world, running to 130 pages.  In brief, the law authorizes physician assisted suicide for terminally ill adults, but permits euthanasia by physicians only when patients are physically unable to self-administer a lethal drug.  In both cases a permit must be obtained in advance.  The main elements of the law are set out below, followed by consideration of its protection of conscience provisions. . .  [Full Text]

Why I will be a conscientious objector to Victoria’s assisted dying law

A palliative care specialist laments the unrealistic individualism and elitism of the euthanasia movement

MercatorNet

Adrian Dabscheck

During a recent period of enforced rest, I had time to reflect on my attitude to the recently enacted voluntary assisted dying legislation in Victoria and consider my response.1 I will detail my reaction to the Act and why I have chosen to become a so-called conscientious objector.

In his essay Western Attitudes Toward Death,2 French historian Philippe Ariès illustrates the evolution of our attitudes to death.

Initially, and for millennia, there had been a general resignation to the destiny of our species for which he used the phrase, Et moriemur, and we shall all die. This was replaced in the 12th Century by the more modern concept of the importance of one’s self, and he used the phrase, la mort de soi, one’s own death.

Ariès then notes that in the 18th Century man gave death a dramatic and disquieting meaning. Man became concerned with the death of the other person, la mort de toi. Death was no longer familiar, nor were the dead. The dead had been torn from life; death had become an important event. By the 19th Century mourning had become difficult and thy death, la mort de toi, is more feared than la mort de soi, one’s own death.

Following this slow evolution in Western attitudes towards death, from being ubiquitous and familiar, with industrialisation, came the concept of the forbidden and shameful death. Life was now meant to be happy and this happiness was interrupted by the emotional disturbance of death and dying. Death was not spoken of, as illustrated by Tolstoy in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”.3 Death was moved from home to hospital, from the care of one’s family to the sanitised, technical care whereby it is difficult to tell when the dying process actually began due to the interference of modern medicine. Death became part of the medical industrial-movement.

In a 2013 article reviewing the situation in Flanders where euthanasia is embedded in palliative care,4 it was noted:

Healthcare professionals note that family members and proxies tend, much more than before, to consider the dying process as undignified, useless and meaningless, even if it happens peacefully, comfortably and with professional support. Requests made by family members for fast and active interventions from healthcare professionals regarding elderly parents are often very coercive, with little nuance or subtlety. End-of-life interventions such as euthanasia are seen as an instrument to end a process of disease (or old age) that is demanding and difficult to bear, instead of letting it follow its course.’

We could not be further removed from Ariès’ phrase, Et moriemur, and we shall all die. Happiness is now the ultimate goal; we can no longer accept the place of death in our life. Ariès wrote in L’Homme devant la mort:5 “Death must simply become the discreet but dignified exit of a peaceful person from a helpful society. A death without pain or suffering, and ultimately without fear.” Thus the idealised ‘good death’.

Unfortunately, for most, society is unable to achieve such utopian goals, hence the need for the modern palliative care movement. As David Roy noted in the third edition of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine,6 it is up to society to allow the palliative care movement to flourish, to remove barriers to care, to develop the broad tapestry of interconnected people, resources, services and institutions to care for those who suffer in the face of death.

For this to be successful there must be an effective ethic of care. An ethic that allows relationships to flourish, an ethic that acknowledges the vulnerability of people and views autonomy from a relational rather than an atomistic perspective. Autonomy is a product of our personhood, our development of interests and values gained by interactions with others. None of us can make decisions which are free from influence. Our decisions relating to ourselves are made in the context of relationships. We commence our life completely dependent on others to sustain us. We depend on the non-judgemental love of others to care for us, to allow us to become independent, to become autonomous in the context of family, friends and society.

I continually ask myself, how have we allowed our ethical boundaries to move to such a degree that a law allowing doctors to take life as a way of relieving suffering has been passed by our state legislature? How have we allowed our view of the individual to become so individualistic and self-gratifying, so removed from an acknowledgement of our dependence on others, so self-centred or dare I say narcissistic?

Perhaps we can learn for the world of art and aesthetics. Hans van Meegeren was an accomplished forger of Vermeer, such that Vermeer experts accepted as originals what are obvious from our current perspective as forgeries. David Roy asks:6 “What process was at work that could so distort the faculties of aesthetic perception and poor judgement? It was a process of incremental adaption to incrementally poor forgeries.”

The Netherlands introduced the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act in 2001. In 2005, of all deaths, 0.4 percent were the result of the ending of life without an explicit request by the patient.7 In 2013 euthanasia was performed for 97 patients with dementia and 42 patients with psychiatric diseases (percentages not reported).8 Have ethical perceptions been distorted such that incremental creep allowed this to happen, as it did with aesthetics and van Meegeren?

In an article published in May 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine discussing the experience of the University Health Network in Toronto after the introduction of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in Canada,9 the authors noted:

[T]hose who received MAiD tended to be white and relatively affluent and indicated that loss of autonomy was the primary reason for their request. Other common reasons included the wish to avoid burdening others or losing dignity and the intolerability of not being able to enjoy one’s life. Few patients cited inadequate control of pain or other symptoms.

I would like to question if the possible consequent good of allowing a highly selected population of privileged people the ability to request and be administered medical assistance in dying is sufficient to overturn millennia of accepted medical practice. Medicine has long been perceived by society to be beneficent and is trusted to avoid actions which would deliberately hasten death. The intent of palliative medicine is the relief of pain and suffering, not the taking of life. Should we risk the incremental creep of our values for the sake of a privileged few?

Do we wish to allow our society to become similar to Belgium, where we are so removed from the human experience that we consider the dying process useless, meaningless and undignified?

In my own city, Melbourne, we can all witness the inadequate provision of palliative care and other health services to more economically challenged sections of our society. A similar picture emerges in rural settings. Can we as a society justify allocating resources to voluntary assisted dying, when basic palliative care and health care are so lacking?

Should we really allow the values of our society to be so radically altered for the few who are so removed from an acceptance of the frailty of the human experience, from an acceptance that we are all dependent on others and vulnerable?

It is for the above reasons that I will be a so-called conscientious objector when the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act comes into operation on 19 June 2019. I will continue to practise medicine as it has been practised for millennia, for the relief of pain and suffering. I would encourage all doctors to in Victoria to do likewise.


Adrian Dabscheck is a Palliative Care Consultant from Victoria

References

1.  Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic).

2.  Ariès P. Western Attitudes Toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

3.  Tolstoy L. The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Published in 1886.

4.  Vanden Berghe P, et al. Assisted Dying – the current situation in Flanders: euthanasia embedded in palliative care. European Journal of Palliative Care 2013;20(6):266-272.

5.  Ariès P. L’Homme devant la mort (The Hour of Our Death). Published in 1977.

6.  Doyle D, et al. (eds.) Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine. 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2005.

7.  Van der Heide A, et al. End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act. New England Journal of Medicine 2007;356:1957-1965.

8.  Radbruch L, et al. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: A white paper from the European Association for Palliative Care. Palliative Medicine 2016;30(2):104-116.

9.  Li M, et al. Medical assistance in dying – implementing a hospital-based program in Canada. New England Journal of Medicine 2017;376:2082-2088.


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Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017

Sean Murphy*

On 19 April, 2018, the legislature of the State of Victoria, Australia, passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, which will come into force in June, 2019.  It is currently the most restrictive euthanasia/assisted suicide (EAS) legislation in the world, running to 130 pages.  In brief, the law authorizes physician assisted suicide for terminally ill adults, but permits euthanasia by physicians only when patients are physically unable to self-administer a lethal drug.  In both cases a permit must be obtained in advance.

Poll: would you dispense Voluntary Assisted Dying drugs?

Debate about Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation is dividing the country… but what do pharmacists think?

AJP.com.au

Megan Haggan

Victoria’s controversial Voluntary Assisted Dying bill – which would introduce legislation that would be the most “conservative” of its type in the world – has passed the State’s lower house, bringing the process one step closer.

Under the legislation, pharmacists would be part of the process, supplying lethal medicines in a locked box to eligible patients. . . [Full text]

 

Victoria, Australia: Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017

Comment

Sean Murphy*

euthanasia and assisted suicide bill introduced in the Parliament of Victoria, Australia, includes several provisions that pertain to legal protection of freedom of conscience.  Concerning these:

  • Freedom of conscience provisions concern only individual practitioners, not health care facilities.  Freedom of conscience presumably includes acting upon moral or ethical beliefs grounded in religious teaching.
  • Statements of principles that require encouragement and promotion of an individual “preferences and values,” that people should be “supported” in conversations about treatment and care and “shown respect” for their beliefs, etc. can be interpreted to require affirmation of moral or ethical choices.
    • While the principles may have no direct legal effect, they could be cited by professional regulatory authorities against those who refuse to encourage, promote, or affirm the acceptability of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • Registered medical practitioner is not defined, but all would be encompassed by the definition of health care practitioner.
  • All health care practitioners are protected by Section 7.
  • Section 7(b) allows for refusal to participate in the request and assessment process and Section 7(c) protects refusal to be present when lethal medication is administered, but Section 7
    • does not include protection for refusal to participate in the administration of lethal medication, by, for example, inserting an IV line in advance, or by other means
    • does not include protection for refusal to participate in dispensing lethal medication
  • “Participate” in Section 7(b) is broad enough to encompass referral.  However, the bill would be improved by providing protection against coerced indirect participation in administering or dispensing lethal medication.
  • The bill does not require falsification of death certificates, but does require the falsification of the cause of death in the registration of deaths.  The bill includes no protection for a registrar who, for reasons of conscience, is unwilling to falsify a registry entry.

The great divide where religious beliefs and the law meet

Faith is accommodated In Australia, but there is piecemeal protection for religious freedom.

The Conversation

Michael Quinlan*

Australia is a multi-faith society. The 2016 Census shows that, while the mix of beliefs has changed over the years, Australia remains a pretty religious place.

In the last census, nearly 70% of Australians self-identified as religious. The number of Australians who have self-identified as Christian in the census has fallen from 88.2% in 1966 to 52.1% in 2016.

The number of Australians identifying as being of another religion has grown from 0.8% to 8.2%, with Islam (2.6%), Buddhism (2.4%) and Hinduism (1.9%) being the largest non-Christian faiths.

The number who self-identified in the category of “no religion” has grown from 0.8% to 30.1%. This category includes having secular beliefs, other spiritual beliefs or having no religion. This makes it hard to be sure what these Australians believe. . . [Full text]

Doctors divided over voluntary assisted dying legislation in Victoria

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Lauren Day

You may think you have to make some pretty tough decisions at work, but it doesn’t get much tougher than choosing whether to help someone die.

Doctors are grappling with their personal and professional beliefs about death and their role in it as politicians in Victoria consider assisted dying laws.

Opinion polls show the majority of people support voluntary assisted dying, but those who would have to administer it are divided.

Polls suggest around 75 per cent of people support assisted dying for the terminally ill, but only 40 per cent of doctors agreed in a recent survey by the Australian Medical Association. . . [Full text]

 

New Zealand Attorney General apparently confused on issue of referral for euthanasia

Sean Murphy*

Chris Finlayson, the Attorney General of New Zealand, has issued a report on a euthanasia bill that has been introduced by Member of Parliament David Seymour, the leader and only sitting member of ACT New Zealand.

This bill includes protection of conscience provisions that were considered by Mr. Finlayson in his report (paragraphs 62-65).  The Attorney General stated that the provisions require an objecting medical practitioner to refer a patient to another physician for euthanasia, and acknowledged that this infringed freedom of conscience guaranteed by New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.  However, he believed this to be consistent with the Bill of Rights:

I consider that the limit is justified for the effective functioning of the regime for assisted dying created by the Bill.  In particular, I consider that the requirement to identify another medical practitioner is necessary to meet the objective of the Bill and is the most minimal impairment of the right possible.(para. 64)

The Attorney General appears to be confused on this point.

In fact, Section 7(2) of the bill requires only that the patient be told that he may contact the “SCENZ Group” (euthanasia coordination/facilitation service) to obtain the name of a euthanasia practitioner or physician willing to assist in the process.  It is up to the patient to initiate contact with the SCENZ Group, and the bill does not require a physician to assist the patient to do so.  This does not amount to referral to a euthanasia practitioner.

The distinction is important because physicians who object to euthanasia for reasons of conscience often refuse to refer patients for the procedure on the grounds that doing so would make them parties to homicide.  This issue is the focus of an important constitutional challenge in Canada, where the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is attempting to compel unwilling physicians to make effective referrals for euthanasia and assisted suicide.

116 Victorian patients refuse lifesaving treatment

The Advertiser

Grant McAurthur

FOUR Victorians a week are taking legal action to prevent doctors giving them lifesaving treatment, with the number expected to multiply next year when new regulations make refusing care easier.

As the Victorian parliament prepares to debate voluntary euthanasia laws in coming months, the Herald Sun can reveal 116 patients have already used legally binding certificates to ban hospitals prolonging their lives this year; however, the measures stop short of assisting them to die.

The issue arose last month when a failed suicide pact saw emergency doctors at Monash Medical Centre forced to save an elderly patient against her wishes because no legally binding Refusal of Treatment Certificate had been lodged to reinforce the demands. . . [Full text]