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A pro-life MP exposed Steph Key’s “Medical Defences – End of Life” bill as a euthanasia bill during the committee debate on 20 October.
Liberal MP Adrian Pederick (Hammond) questioned the need for Steph Key’s Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences – End of Life Arrangements Amendment Bill 2011. He said that current legislation provides sufficient protection for doctors.
He quoted Clause 17 (1) of the Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care Act, which protects doctors who relieve pain in dying patients, even if an unintended side effect is to hasten death.
Mr Pederick’s speech echoed previous statements by the Australian Medical Association and the SA Law Society that Ms Key’s bill would decriminalise murder.
Mr Pederick also made an impassioned case for palliative care instead of euthanasia, saying he would support Ms Key’s bill only if she could demonstrate that it was about improving palliative care.
Towards the end of the debate, Leesa Vlahos (ALP, Taylor) moved amendments to remove the words “intended death” from the bill. Steph Key immediately rejected these changes.
Her response reveals a deceptive agenda – to decriminalise euthanasia, even though her bill does not use the word.
In fact, during debate on 29 September, Steph Key insisted that her bill was not about euthanasia, but several MPs said they were confused. Tony Piccolo (ALP, Light – Gawler) raised the issue a couple of times. He asked Ms Key to insert a clause saying the bill was not a euthanasia bill. She refused, saying her “medical defences” bill is not about euthanasia because she already has another bill on the notice paper about euthanasia.
“I have a more radical view about voluntary euthanasia,” Ms Key said. “… I am more interested in the patient’s request and their view about what is intolerable than what the community view might be or what other people’s views might be.”
Euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke has strongly welcomed Ms Key’s medical defences bill, saying he plans to set up a death clinic in Adelaide as soon as the bill has passed both houses of parliament.
Dr Nitschke, often known as “Dr Death”, has announced that he is importing the deadly drug Nembutal from overseas. He told The Advertiser (26/9/11) that he plans to prescribe it for an SA patient in Victor Harbor who says she “does not want to die, but has the right to make that choice”. He said he would give it to her as a “sleeping pill” and “warn her” of the dangers of taking more than one tablet each night.
But retired palliative care specialist Dr Brian Pollard points out that Nembutal has long been banned in Australia. “There were serious problems including death and addiction when it was used as a sleeping pill before the 1970s,” he told VoxPoint. “Dr Nitschke’s proposed use of Nembutal would be a major breach of good medical practice.”
HOPE campaign director Paul Russell said, “Steph Key’s bill is very similar in content to the court-ordered regulations in the Netherlands some 30 years ago, which first allowed euthanasia in that country. It was not long before all the apparent Dutch safeguards were re-interpreted or ignored.”
Paul Russell said Ms Key’s bill cannot be made safe while it allows doctors to intentionally kill their patients or assist them to commit suicide. “The killing doctor would only be called upon to provide proof that he or she complied with safeguards if there were a complaint,” he said. “There is no indication of any penalty where a doctor did not comply.”
Dr Peter Sharley, President of the Australian Medical Association (SA) and Mr Ralph Bonig, President of the SA Law Society, have also publicly opposed the bill. Dr Sharley said the legislation has been progressed without informed community debate, and its vague and subjective language is open to abuse.
If passed, Key’s bill would decriminalise murder by health professionals (ie euthanasia) as long as the murderer believes the patient has asked for it because the patient’s life has become “intolerable”. These clauses could be exploited – for example, by people expecting to benefit from the patient’s will.
The Vlahos amendments to the bill will be debated in the committee stage in the House of Assembly on 10 November.