Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Analysis of the South Australia euthanasia bills

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On Wednesday, November 24, 2010; there will be a debate and vote on the Parnell/Key euthanasia bills in South Australia. These bills are identical, one being in the upper house and one in the lower house.

The Parnell/Key bills are deceptively titled: Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care (End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill 2010. What these bills do is they legalize euthanasia in South Australia by amending the Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care Act 1995.

Legalizing euthanasia means that the law will allow a physician to directly and intentionally cause the death of their patient. These Acts are designed to determine the conditions to allow an act, that is currently recognized as homicide.

These bills are so cumbersome that a physician will likely need to consult a lawyer, or the euthanasia lobby, before deciding to lethally inject a person.

It is possible that the euthanasia lobby intended these bills to be complicated to ensure that physicians would need to consult them on the workings of the law.

Even the rules that are prescribed in the bill related to the establishment of a “Euthanasia Board” are cumbersome.

Definitions are everything.

The bills allows a lethal injection to be given to (35) (1):

(a) an adult person who is in the terminal phase of a terminal illness. The words terminal phase and terminal illness are not defined.

(b) An adult person who is suffering from an illness, injury or other medical condition (other than mental illness within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 2009) that irreversibly impairs the person’s quality of life so that lie has become intolerable to that person.

Section (b) essentially applies to anyone who has a significant physical disability or a long-term chronic condition.

Many people live with an illness, injury or other medical condition that irreversibly impairs the person’s “quality of life”. But when did society decide that people who live with disabilities or chronic conditions are better off dead?

Does this bill limit euthanasia to the “free choice” of a person?.

The bill states that if the physician suspects that the person is not of sound mind, or possible under some form of duress that the physician must obtain a certificate from a psychiatrist before being allowed to lethally inject the person.

This is a similar provision to the assisted suicide statute in Oregon. In the first year of the Oregon assisted suicide law, 11 of 24 people were sent for a psychiatric assessment. In 2009, 0 of 59 people who died by assisted suicide were sent for a psychiatric assessment.

An independent study by Linda Ganzini that was published in 2008 found that 15 of 58 people (26%) who had requested assisted suicide were depressed or experiencing feelings of hopelessness. BMA 2008, 337: a. 1682.

“Safeguards” to prevent people who are depressed from dying from euthanasia are only as good as the people who operate the law. Most physicians are not experts in depression or mental illness, therefore the “safeguard” will be rarely, if ever, applied.

These bills would allow someone, to request in advance of a possible medical condition, that a lethal injection be done , while in a possible future state of health.

The purpose for this section of the bill is to give physicians the right to lethally inject people who have Alzheimer disease or dementia. If people in South Australia are encouraged to sign advanced directives for euthanasia, this would eliminate many people when they are expensive to care for and when their lives are considered not worth living.

In Conclusion:
The South Australia bill is written in a cumbersome fashion to make it appear to protect vulnerable people from euthanasia. The bill states that it is about voluntary euthanasia.

By reading the bill it becomes clear that the purpose of the bill is to eliminate the lives of people with disabilities or long-term chronic conditions. The bill is not limited to terminal illness and further, it doesn’t even effectively define terminal illness.

Therefore the cumbersome nature of the bill is either a smoke screen to convince the public that the bill will ensure public safety, which it doesn’t, while it allows wide definitions to ensure that people who are expensive to care for can be lethally injected.

Once again, the cumbersome nature of the bill will also play into the hands of the euthanasia lobby. In Oregon, the 2009 stats indicate that 57 of 59 assisted suicide deaths were facilitated by Compassion & Choices, formerly the Hemlock society. This means that the euthanasia lobby has become responsible for facilitating the law. The same would be true in South Australia.

Members of the South Australian parliament need to reject these bills and re-commit themselves to providing effective care for all of their citizens and not lethal injections for people with disabilities and chronic conditions.

Alex Schadenberg
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

1 comment:

Eric Fischer said...

I haven't seen this piece referenced and thought it would be relevant: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/a_dying_man_explains_why_ethanasia_is_so_dangerous