Hill's Kill Bill - Open season on patients

Readers may recall the eleventh hour intervention by the South Australian Health Minister, John Hill the day before the euthanasia debate that raised serious doubts about the Parnell Bill.  How this affected the outcome of the debate the next day is anybody's guess â�� but it was certainly a welcome statement that supported our observations.  That same day, however, Mr Hill circulated a draft bill which, we understand, may be tabled in the parliament in the New Year. Mr Hill's alternative is very different in approach to the legislative frameworks adopted by pro-euthanasia MPs over recent years.  We've had bills designed to create stand alone acts and bills that amend existing acts of the SA Parliament but, to my knowledge we have never seen a euthanasia and assisted suicide bill that restricts itself entirely to amending the SA Criminal Code (the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, to be precise).The Hill 'Kill Bill' creates a legal defence against an act of euthanasia or assisting in a suicide for a medical practitioner or for another person who aids a medical practitioner in an act of euthanasia or assisted suicide within Division 1 (homicide) Subsection 13 (manslaughter) of the Act.

Health Minister Hill's bill includes the kind of imprecise and subjective terms that we have seen in other bills which draw the same conclusion that euthanasia and assisted suicide law is never safe from abuse.  However, this bill goes much further than that: the successful passage of this bill would enshrine in law the intention of the Parliament that, '…conduct bringing about the end of a (prescribed) person's life is a reasonable response to (such) suffering…'.  This section goes on to define the above statement as follows:

(a) if palliative care is not reasonably available to the prescribed person, or is not effective in reducing his or her suffering to a level acceptable to the prescribed person; or

(b) in exceptional circumstances.

So, regulating the availability of palliative care could raise or lower the death rate from euthanasia.  'Exceptional circumstances' are not further defined.  Could a planned overseas trip, jeopardized by the fact that grandma just keeps hanging on, be seen as 'exceptional circumstances'?  Your guess is as good as mine because the bill is silent here.

Further 'silence' in the bill comes by way of the 'regulations' that would accompany this bill.  Most Acts will have some form of regulation even if only for the design and detail for department forms and reporting.  In this case Mr Hill leaves the decision about what illnesses would qualify and in what circumstances to those who write the regulations.  The bill does not even provide any guidance as to what makes the list and what doesn't.  Regulations are instruments that are 'disallowable' by the parliament but the ordinary right to create or amend them lies with the relevant minister.  Nor does the bill give any indication of what reporting requirements would be placed upon doctors; meaning that the only time concerns might be raised regarding an act of euthanasia would be on the basis of a complaint — and how likely is that.  This is a law that cannot be enforced and it is, therefore, bad law.  In a matter as grave as life and death decisions it would amount to an abrogation of duty on the part of our parliament.

This kind of legislation presents a 'rolled-gold' opportunity for a medical activist like Dr. Kevorkian to 'test the law'.  Leaving definitions so vague that they provide little practical description of the intent of the parliament will invite the kind of judicial interpretation that could conceivably broaden euthanasia and assisted suicide activity even further.  That's what happened in the Netherlands and this bill is a recipe for the same kind of open slather approach.  We could call it 'euthanasia on demand', but that implies a demand (request) from the patient and, as history shows us, consent is often a casualty.

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