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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Medical Euthanasia in Canada: Current Issues and Potential Future Expansion

Psychiatric Times

Mark S. Komrad

Dr Mark Komrad explores the relatively new Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law in Canada, and how it may be on the verge of opening medical euthanasia to certain qualified psychiatric patients, similar to practices in Belgium and The Netherlands (see A Psychiatrist Visits Belgium: The Epicenter of Psychiatric Euthanasia).

He also brings out specific worries about the emerging ethical and legal trends in Ontario, to stop conscientious objecting physicians from refusing to refer cases of patients seeking euthanasia to colleagues who might be willing to provide it.

Dr Komrad is a clinical psychiatrist and an ethicist. He just finished a 6-year tenure on the APA Ethics Committee and also serves on the APA Assembly. In those contexts, he helped to craft the current current APA position on Medical Euthanasia for non-terminally ill patients [PDF]. He is also on the teaching Faculty of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, Sheppard Pratt, and the University of Maryland. Dr Komrad’s opinions are his own, and he is not officially representing the APA in this article, nor any of the institutions where he is on the faculty. . . . [Go to Psychiatric Times for Podcast]

 

World Medical Association to consider policy changes on abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide

Debate planned for ethics conference in October in Iceland

Sean Murphy*

Following a meeting of the WMA Council in Riga, Latvia, the WMA issued a statement noting that a revised version of the WMA abortion policy would be presented for approval at the WMA annual General Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In addition, the WMA has announced that there will be a further “open debate” on changing the Association’s policy against physician participation in euthasnasia and assisted suicide.  The debate will occur during a WMA conference on medical ethics taking place at the same time and place.  Formal presentations on euthanasia and assisted suicide will be given on 4 October, 2018, but informal discussions among delegates are likely to be important.  The debate appears to be a consequence of lobbying by the Canadian and Royal Dutch Medical Associations to convince the WMA to drop its condemnation of the practices

It is not clear whether or not WMA members appreciate the relationship between abortion policy and euthanasia policy.  Compulsory referral for abortion is essentially a dress rehearsal for compulsory referral for euthanasia and assisted suicide, something clearly demonstrated in Canada.  Accusations of “patient abandonment” formerly aimed at those refusing to refer for abortion1 are now, in addition, being levelled at those who refuse to refer patients to someone willing to kill them or help them commit suicide.2

In 2011, a Royal Society of Canada panel of experts chaired by Udo Schuklenk  recommended legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.3  The experts insisted that health care professionals unwilling to provide euthanasia help patients commit suicide must refer them to someone willing to do so.4 This was justified, they said, because it was agreed that objectors are obliged to refer for “reproductive health services.”5  It really was not agreed: the Canadian Medical Association had, in fact, rejected this claim five years earlier6 after it was made by Jocelyn Downie,7 one of Schuklenk’s colleagues on the Royal Society Panel.

By 2015 Schuklenk was arguing that objecting physicians should not be accommodated at all. Among his arguments was that referring for abortion or euthanasia is not a compromise because it involves moral complicity in the act, “barely reduced” by the act of referral.8  This implied that physicians should be forced to provide abortion and euthanasia, notwithstanding religious or conscientious convictions to the contrary, a position Schuklenk explicitly adopted over the next two years.9, 10

At the same time, Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran was insisting that physicians should be forced to kill eligible patients themselves.11 He claimed that this was required by human rights law,12 describing effective referral as an unacceptable form of illicit discrimination.13

In considering changes to euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion policies in October, WMA delegates will have to take great care to consider not only the most obvious ethical issues of life and death, but less obvious yet important issues like the distinction between acceptable cooperation and unacceptable collaboration, which play out in disputes about mandatory referral for abortion and euthanasia.


Notes
1.  “According to the prevailing norm of beneficence therefore, as well as those of trust, patient autonomy, and not abandoning patients, physicians should refer patients for abortions.”  McLeod C. Referral in the Wake of Conscientious Objection to Abortion. Hypatia, Vol. 23, No. 4 (October-December, 2008) at p. 36 (Accessed 2018-08-022).

2.  Cook M. Canadian court tells doctors they must refer for euthanasia. Mercatornet, 2 February, 2018

3. Schuklenk U, van Delden JJM, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011)[“Royal Society“] p. 96 (Accessed 2014-02-23).

4.  Royal Society, p. 69, 101.

5.  Royal Society, p. 62.

6.  Blackmer J. Clarification of the CMA’s position on induced abortion. CMAJ April 24, 2007 vol. 176 no. 9 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.1070035 (Accessed 2017-12-12).

7.  Rodgers S. Downie J. Abortion: Ensuring Access. CMAJ July 4, 2006 vol. 175 no. 1 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.060548 (Accessed 2017-12-12).

8.  Schuklenk, U. Conscientious objection in medicine: private ideological convictions must not supercede public service obligations (2015) 29:5 Bioethics ii, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12167

9.  Schuklenk U, Smalling R. Why medical professionals have no claim to conscientious objection accommodation in liberal democracies (2016) 43:4 J Med Ethics 234, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/medethics-2016-103560.

10. Savulescu J, Schuklenk U. Doctors have no right to refuse medical assistance in dying, abortion or contraception (2017) 31:3 Bioethics 162, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12288

11.  Though conceding that a lethal drug might be administered in the physician’s presence by a delegate, and that referral might be necessitated by technical incompetence. Attaran A. The Limits of Conscientious and Religious Objection to Physician-Assisted Dying after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Carter v Canada (2016 ) 36:3 Health L Can 86 [“Attaran“], p. 87-88, 96.

12.  “[W]hen a doctor refuses to assist a patient who is disabled by a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’, just because the patient wants death rather than something else, that arguably discriminates against the disabled patient.” Attaran, p. 89.

13.  Attaran, p. 91–93.

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.

UN Bureaucrats Push Full Steam Ahead for Abortion, Slam Breaks on Euthanasia

Experts a seek to limit freedom of conscience for  medical professionals

Center for Family and Human Rights

Stefanno Gennarini

NEW YORK, April 13 (C-Fam) “Sexual and reproductive health and rights are integral to the dignity of women and girls,” said Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore at a gathering of UN experts and bureaucrats in Geneva last month.

Gilmore invited some thirty international experts of two UN human rights treaty monitoring committees to “confront” the UN General Assembly and “defy” UN member states which have repeatedly refused to recognize an international right to abortion.

“This is not a time for optimism. This is not a time for hope. This is a time for courage,” Gilmore said. Egging on the experts, she said that the limitations that member states had placed on their power and resources were a “pernicious intentional effort to counter your authority, to minimize the reach of your responsibilities, and dilute the authority with which you speak.” . . .[Full Text]

Hawaii legalizes assisted suicide: Refusing to refer for suicide may incur legal liability

Sean Murphy*

Assisted suicide will become legal in Hawaii on 1 January, 2019, as a result of the passage of the Our Care, Our Choice Act. Introduced in the state House of Representatives only in January, it passed both the House and Senate and was approved by Governor David Ige on 5 April. Beginning next year, physicians will be able to write prescriptions for lethal medications for Hawaiian residents who are capable of informed consent, who are at least 18 years old, and who have been diagnosed with a terminal, incurable disease expected to result in death within six months.1

And beginning next year, Hawaiian physicians who refuse to facilitate assisted suicide by referring patients to a willing colleague may face discipline — including expulsion from the medical profession — or other legal liabilities. Hawaii could become one of only two jurisdictions in the world where willingness to refer patients for suicide is a condition for practising medicine.2 . . . [Full text]

An effective referral is still a referral

Sanasi Jayawardena, Alexandra A Majerski

We are writing to respond to Dr. Steven Bodley’s letter: “Just the Facts on Effective Referral.” . . . The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (CPSO’s) effective referral policy for MAiD does not go far enough in protecting the religious freedom of physicians. . . It is unfortunate that the CPSO does not acknowledge that the provision of an “indirect” referral still renders the referring physician complicit. . . . medical students training in Ontario must now seriously consider taking their skills and talents to another province or jurisdiction in which they can practice their vocation in a manner that upholds their integrity. . . [Full Text]

B.C. doctor cleared of wrongdoing for providing assisted death to woman who starved herself

Globe and Mail

Kelly Grant

British Columbia’s physician regulator has cleared a doctor of any wrongdoing for providing medical aid in dying to a woman who did not qualify for the procedure until she starved herself to the brink of death.

A committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (CPSBC) found that Ellen Wiebe did not break the regulator’s rules when she helped a 56-year-old patient known as Ms. S to die last year.

The case is the first to be made public in which a medical regulator has ruled on the contentious question of whether doctors should grant assisted deaths to patients who only satisfy all the criteria of the federal law after they stop eating and drinking.

“It was determined that Ms. S met the requisite criteria and was indeed eligible for medical assistance in dying, despite the fact that her refusal of medical treatment, food, and water, undoubtedly hastened her death and contributed to its ‘reasonable foreseeability,'” the college’s inquiry committee wrote in a Feb. 13 report. . . . [Full text]

 

Has stopping eating and drinking become a path to assisted dying?

Policy Options

Jocelyn Downie

Can patients, by stopping eating and drinking, make themselves meet the criteria for a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” the requirement to access MAiD?

Ms. S. was a 56-year-old woman with advanced multiple sclerosis. In June 2016, when her suffering became intolerable and her state of decline was advanced as a result of her incurable medical condition, she asked Dr. Ellen Wiebe for medical assistance in dying (MAiD). Ms. S. had earlier declined potentially effective treatment. Dr. Wiebe concluded that Ms. S. met most of the eligibility criteria for MAiD in Canada: incurable condition, advanced state of decline in capability, and enduring and intolerable suffering not remediable by any means acceptable to her. However, as she did not believe that Ms. S. would die “in the foreseeable future,” she deemed her not to meet the final eligibility criterion for MAiD: “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.” Ms. S. asked again for MAiD in December 2016 and January 2017 and each time she was deemed ineligible on the same grounds. . . [Full Text]