Why were these safeguards rejected?

On Thursday, the NSW Lower House voted 53-36 to approve the initial version of Alex Greenwich’s extreme euthanasia and assisted suicide bill.

Following this initial vote, the bill was considered in detail, with Members given the opportunity to propose amendments to the bill.

A small number of members did their best to make a bad bill better by putting forward amendments that would offer sensible safeguards against the bill’s wide reach.

But pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide activists within NSW Parliament rejected these amendments as a whole; not willing to consider anything that was proposed by those who were perceived to be opposed to the killing of the vulnerable altogether.

Some 70 amendments were rejected. Here are some of the more egregious ones voted down by your representatives:

  • That healthcare workers not be permitted to initiate a discussion about euthanasia or assisted suicide with their patients (a similar prohibition exists in Victoria). This provision would have been a safeguard against misuse or abuse of the huge power imbalance that exists between doctors and patients.
  • That a person is only eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide if they are suffering physically (a person could also be suffering in other ways, but would not be eligible if there was no physical suffering). This provision would have made sure that a person who is not in any pain or physical discomfort does not have access to lethal drugs.
  • For a person to be diagnosed with a disease, illness or condition that will likely cause death in six months, they must be diagnosed by a specialist in that disease, illness or condition. This safeguard would have ensured that the doctor who tells a person they will soon die from a terminal illness has the relevant experience.
  • That a doctor has a “high degree of certainty” that a person will die within six months, rather than just it being “on the balance of probabilities”. This safeguard would have prevented patients who might actually have years left to live from being given lethal drugs too early.
  • To make it clear that a disability or a mental health impairment is not a disease, illness or medical condition that would make a person eligible for euthanasia and assisted suicide. This safeguard would have defended against the changes currently being seen in Canada, where euthanasia is now available to those with disabilities and will soon be available to those with mental illnesses.
  • That the two medical practitioners signing off on a patient’s death need to be independent of each other. This safeguard would have made sure that the two doctors aren’t in a position where they may influence each other in assessing a patient’s eligibility for lethal drugs.
  • That a person may not request death until 21 days after their diagnosis with a terminal condition. This safeguard would have ensured that a person who has just received a terminal diagnosis doesn’t immediately ask for death, and instead has time to consult with doctors and others.
  • That a doctor who has been approached with a request for euthanasia would have to inform the patient’s existing treating medical practitioner and specialist of the request for death. If this provision had been approved, it would have ensured that the doctor making a decision about a patient’s death had the benefit of any relevant medical information relating to the patient.
  • That a doctor who suspected that their patient had, within the last five years, been subject to abusive behaviour from a family member or carer, would have to refer the patient to a mental health professional before approving their death. Had it been accepted, this provision would have taken into account the findings of inquiries into elder abuse and the recent Aged Care and Disability Royal Commissions that demonstrated the prevalence of abuse amongst the elderly and others in care.
  • Before a patient is prescribed lethal drugs, they are referred to a palliative care specialist to see if their suffering might be able to be relieved. If passed, this provision would have increased the choices available to patients at the end of life.

Unfortunately, all these sensible safeguards were rejected by pro-euthanasia MPs, determined to ram the bill through Parliament before Christmas.

Let’s hope the Upper House inquiry, which is also caught up in the pre-Christmas parliamentary rush, considers these amendments more carefully.