Financial Services Council baulks at SA euthanasia bill

by Paul Russell:

The Australian newspaper ran a frontpage article over the weekend showcasing the concerns of the Insurance Industry over the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016. The bill is to be debated this week in the South Australian House of Assembly.

Why would the Insurance Industry be concerned?

Put simply, life insurance contracts usually exclude suicide in the first 13 months of a policy; meaning that there is no liability upon the company to payout the insured sum if, indeed, the insured dies by suicide during the exclusion period.

This exclusion also applies for any increased to the sum insured during the life of an existing policy.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 includes provisions that the death be recorded as being caused by the underlying condition and not the action of the doctor to kill nor the suicide of the person with assistance from the doctor. It also stipulates that insurers are not able to ask the insured whether or not they were seeking death by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

This not only has the potential to skew the data that insurance actuaries rely on to forecast premiums, it also has the potential to create a legal cover for insurance fraud.

Opportunities for fraud exist should a person who has every intention to die by euthanasia or assisted suicide decides to either take out a new policy or to extend an existing policy so that the payout to the beneficiaries is increased significantly.

Given that the Insurance Industry is governed by national legislation through the Federal Parliament, this has the potential for state versus federal conflict at law.

From the article:

The Financial Services Council representing life insurers, an industry which turned over revenue of $28bn last year, warned yesterday that the plan was unconstitutional and would be disastrous for the industry.

"The bill would likely be inconsistent with commonwealth legislation and trigger Section 109 of the Constitution," said FSC chief executive Sally Loane, referring to the provision for federal law to prevail over inconsistent state law. "The ability to underwrite and price insurance should never be impacted by state legislation if we are to maintain a sustainable ­insurance market."

Australia's biggest retail life ­insurer, AMP, said: "This is something we are looking into."

And all of this because the bill intends that the doctor lie on the death certificate.

But thats not the only area where the truth seems to be a casualty. The article quotes the mover of the bill, Steph Key MP: "The person concerned needs to be able to say: 'Look, this is the end of the road for me, palliative care is not working and I am finding this intolerable'," Ms Key said.

Not so. While the bill would include such a person, it would also include anyone who had a terminal diagnosis and considered that their suffering was intolerable. They may not be imminently dying. They may have years yet to live. They may be foregoing treatments that could cure or at least relieve the symptoms. No-one can be forced to accept any medical intervention - including palliative care - and certainly not as a hoop to jump through to access euthanasia.

Financial Services Council chief executive Sally Loane told The Australian, "We have suggested that the insurance provision is removed until such a time as the South Australian parliament has considered the complex legal issues for insurance in this bill," Ms Loane said. "There are jurisdictional and retrospective issues that could negatively impact the insurance industry and South Australian consumers."

This is simply another example of a bill presented without proper consultation with significant stakeholders. And it is not as though the Insurance Industry has not mentioned this problem before. In 2013 I wrote about a similar intervention over Bob Such's so called 'Ending Life with Dignity Bill'.

AMA president Michael Gannon belled the cat in the same article where he clearly implies that such insurance fraud could be an 'incentive' towards death:

"Asked if a payout could encourage terminally ill people to seek an early death, Dr Gannon said: "We already know elderly people can feel or be made to feel that they are a burden … I would regard it as a very concerning development if there was a financial incentive for someone to end their life."

As debate continues this week, it will be interesting to see whether or not the proposed amendments to the bill will be further amended to accommodate these concerns.