Quebec style euthanasia bill to be introduced into Australian Federal Parliament

Ever since the euthanasia bill was tabled in the Canadian provincial parliament in Quebec, HOPE has been expecting that a similar bill would be developed for Australia. 

A new bill, called the Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Bill 2014 was made public as an exposure draft by Senator Richard Di Natale in Canberra today.

UPDATE (25th June): This bill has been referred by the Senate to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for an Inquiry. The report date is the 27th of October.

(We will keep you posted as more details come to hand!)

The timing of Di Natale's announcement could not have been more obvious. As readers will know, the Quebec's Bill 52 recently passed in their parliament. However, Bill 52 is opposed by the Canadian National Government and is already the subject of a legal challenge.

Bill-52 defined euthanasia as a form of health care. Di Natale's bill calls it 'Dignity with Dying Medical Services'.

The reason for these Orwellian distortions is worthy of note. In Canada the criminal code, (wherein lay the provisions prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide under the sections on homicide) is held in the national parliament. Euthanasia and assisted suicide bills, therefore, would normally be debated in the national parliament as occurred in 2010 with Bill C-384. But the powers to legislate over health are a provincial issue. So, the national parliament being hostile to such change, the pro euthanasia lobby has simply moved its attention to a province and has rebadged euthanasia as health care.

In Australia the situation is almost precisely reversed (which is why euthanasia debates normally take place in the states). But the Commonwealth has shared powers under health. Again, with the states unwilling to pass legislation, lobbyists have grasped the nettle and moved their focus to Canberra.

Senator Di Natale's website says:

According to Section 51 (xxiiiA) of the Australian Constitution the federal Parliament has the power to legislate regarding medical services. This proposed bill uses this power to define a "dying with dignity medical service" and authorise medical practitioners to prescribe, prepare and/or administer a substance that would assist a terminally ill person to end their life in a humane manner. It provides that the Commonwealth can pay for this service as it would for other medical services. It also indemnifies doctors from prosecution by the states.

The bill provides for both euthanasia and assisted suicide and contains many of the usual imprecise, subjective tests and so-called safeguards as we've seen in recent state-based bills.

Di Natale, in creating this 'exposure draft' would seem to be suggesting that he may seek to initiate a parliamentary inquiry into the matter canvassing the idea as follows:

The inquiry will explore issues such as:

Should the Commonwealth legislate?
Can it withstand a challenge if it conflicts with state law?
Do the safeguards in place strike the right balance? Or is it too onerous to involve three independent medical practitioners?
Does it contain sufficient protection for medical professionals?
Should it remain restricted to terminally ill people only?

The first two questions are pivotal. The acceptance of euthanasia & assisted suicide as a 'medical service' is essentially a prerequisite to any bill of this nature being debated as it was in Quebec. The possible conflict with the Australian states may also occur in a manner as has been flagged in Canada with the additional possible need for reciprocal legislation in each of our state jurisdictions.

These matters are far from settled. But note well the other questions: Concern about protection for doctors without any real concern for patient safety; ambivalence about whether or not it should be restricted to terminal illness - inviting the obvious conclusion that the limitations might well be diluted.

Essentially, this is the same-old, same-old euthanasia type bill with an adaptor plugged in so it might be debated in the Federal Parliament.

In a further twist, I was alerted recently to a provision in the existing Medicare Benefits Schedule that is, at the very least, perplexing:

Services not attracting benefits

(a) telephone consultations;
(b) issue of repeat prescriptions when the patient does not attend the surgery in person;
(c) group attendances (unless otherwise specified in the item, such as items 170, 171, 172, 342, 344 and 346);
(d) non­therapeutic cosmetic surgery;
(e) euthanasia and any service directly related to the procedure. However, services rendered for counselling/assessment about euthanasia will attract benefits.(emphasis added)

The draft bill would most likely seek to remove subclause G.13.1.(e) from the schedule which, on the face of it, already allows doctors to counsel on euthanasia. (Local death clinic anyone?)

Time will tell whether this bill develops further, but we will be watching.

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You can download a copy of the draft bill HERE.