Key's euthanasia bill exposed

 In South Australia, where euthanasia bills grow like weeds (or so it seems) the latest of four attempts to legalise the practice in this parliament alone, was dealt a critical blow this week. In a joint letter, the SA branch of the Australian Medical Association and the SA Society condemned the bill in what could only be said to be an unusual, but exceedingly welcome, move.To anyone who has not followed the debate, this might not seem to be news at all.  No-one expects the AMA to think otherwise and it is always possible that senior lawyers might see errors in the drafting or effect of a bill where others might not.

This statement, however, was significant for other reasons.  In prosecuting her Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences — End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill 2011 Steph Key and the Health Minister, John Hill described the bill as being about improving protections for doctors in end-of-life medicine and not, as we have consistently stated, about euthanasia.  They have, in different ways, suggested that the bill has the support of the SA AMA:

"My final point is that I did consult with the AMA over this legislation and received some advice, some of which was incorporated into the provision.  The AMA has told me in writing that it does not object to this legislation.  I think it is a very good thing to have the doctors' organisation onside, because we know that, if that conservative organisation supports it, it is not a dangerous or radical provision."

Health Minister John Hill MP Second reading Speech.  HoA Hansard 24th March 2011

In her closing speech at the Second reading vote, Steph Key suggested that she was discussing some amendments with the AMA which, at the very least, suggests AMA support with these amendments.

A number of MPs had been convinced by the Hill/Key argument that this bill did not create legalized euthanasia.  Though obviously wrong to many observers (including Philip Nitschke who correctly identified the bill as a euthanasia 'decriminalization' bill), to the uninitiated and to those who were prepared to accept the Hill/Key advice at face value, this may either have been a plausible belief or a convenient screen to hide behind.  At least some MPs were blissfully unaware that the state's palliative care act already gave doctors the protection they needed.

And so, the joint statement cleared the air and stated the case succinctly.  It remains to be seen whether the bill's MP supporters will have the courage to admit their error.

Steph Key, for her part, has vowed to resume the debate on her other euthanasia bill even though, as she admitted to the Adelaide Advertiser, 'despite what appeared to be growing opposition to the issue.'  But it is Key's other comment that deserves some scrutiny.

The Advertiser's Greg Kelton: Ms Key said she could not predict what support there was among MPs for the Bill (her other bill), although indications were, while many MPs might have problems with her voluntary euthanasia Bill, they did not have the same concerns about the medical defence Bill.

We know why MPs did not have 'the same concerns about the medical defence Bill (sic)'; they were led to believe it wasn't a euthanasia bill.  Which leaves us to wonder: was this a deliberate subterfuge or simply a very unfortunate error now exposed?

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