Instead of calling on the government to ensure patients in rural and remote areas receive access to palliative care as a matter of urgent priority, two independent MPs – Kate Chaney and Dr Monique Ryan – are pushing for the government to make it easier for people to get access to lethal injections instead.
Kate Chaney MP, member for Curtin will introduce a bill in 2024 to exempt telehealth appointments from the Commonwealth Criminal Code which currently bans the use of telehealth for euthanasia and assisted suicide approvals.
Ms Chaney said:
“This is such a simple ask – that we update the federal criminal code to allow people in remote areas to access the same end-of-life health services as everyone else, via telehealth.
“This small amendment will remove any ambiguity and allow doctors to administer end of life services without fear of prosecution under an outdated law. It’s time to update our laws in line with community expectations, so that access to dignified end-of-life services doesn’t depend on your postcode.”
Dr Monique Ryan has expressed her support for such a bill:
“The level of medical care needed to support voluntary assisted dying patients is challenging and requires care and commitment.
“Few clinicians have the skills required. It’s vital we ensure that all Australians have access to VAD if they need it – regardless of their geographic location – and that doctors are not penalised for providing this service because of outdated laws”.
However, medical professionals dedicated to the care of the seriously ill are strongly opposed to this proposal. A letter signed by 1000 medical professionals with expertise in numerous fields including Primary, Aged and Palliative Care, as well as Oncology, Psychiatry and Disabilities, has urged the Standing Council of Attorneys-General to retain the current prohibition on the use of electronic communications for access to euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation, on the basis that removing the ban will result in great hazards and injustice for patients. In addition, they have highlighted the risks involved, including the exploitation of vulnerable patients, as well as the increased risk of coercion and misdiagnosis.
Dr John Daffy, Head of Infectious Diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne has criticised this latest push from the teal MPs:
“It is extraordinary that both Kate Chaney and Dr Monique Ryan are calling for doctors to facilitate doctor assisted suicide at the end of life via internet on the basis that dignified end of life services shouldn’t depend on your postcode. They would be much better putting their considerable efforts into pushing for specialist palliative care for all Australians regardless of postcode. Presently large percentages of Australians in our vast country do not have access to specialist palliative care”.
Dr Daffy has warned that removing the ban would result in serious consequences for vulnerable patients:
“Consultations over the internet are inappropriate for something as serious as a patient taking their own life. Telehealth consultations will always be second best to proper in person consultation”.
Where is the call from these MPs to ensure equitable access for people in regional and remote areas to specialist palliative care?