New draft euthanasia legislation for NSW revealed

Last week, a consultation draft of legislation which would allow both euthanasia and assisted suicide was released in NSW.  Its proponents are hailing it as a ‘safe’ bill, but even ‘safe’ bills have all the potential flaws of ‘unsafe’ ones.  I’ve only done a quick review of the draft, and will provide some further thoughts when (or if) state MPs decide that the public should have a say on the draft legislation:

Are the medical decision makers really independent?

The medical practitioners, including “independent” psychiatrists and psychologists, are determined to be so if they are not a “close relative” of the person seeking to die.  One problem is that the definition of a ‘close relative’ is determined largely by biology.  It includes parents, guardians or children, spouses (married or de facto) and siblings (including half-siblings and step siblings.)  But it doesn’t pay any attention to others who could have significant influence, including friends with long-standing relationships, in-laws (the draft would do nothing to prevent a son- or daughter-in-law from providing the medical or psychological assessment of a person requesting death) and others.

Is unbearable suffering really necessary to request death?

Section 4 says that a terminally ill patient over 25 years of age can request to be killed if they are experiencing suffering which is unacceptable to them.  The suffering need not be physical, and the measure of whether or not it is ‘unbearable’ belongs to the individual and no one else. 

Section 17 backs this up by operating in a way that any treatment which might effect a cure needs to be acceptable to the patient, or in the event that a potential cure is not available, a request is valid even if all pain and suffering can be relieved.

While I understand that there is a subjective element to end-of-life decision making, making it entirely subjective means that a more honest representation of the effect of the operation of this draft legislation would be to do away with the qualifier of “unbearable suffering” altogether, because in practice it would just be the person’s decision irrespective of what they are actually experiencing.

Would this allow non-medical professionals the ability to take a life?

Section 7 allows a patient to nominate someone else who does not need to be a medical professional to administer the deadly drug to them.  The only requirement is that they are over the age of 18.  This makes not only doctors, but ordinary people who – one would imagine – would be a relative or close friend of the patient, into killers. 

It would be interesting to see how this authorisation of a nominee interacts with the supposed “safeguard” of allowing a patient to rescind their request at any time and in any matter, and requires a medical practitioner to record that the request had been rescinded.  But what if the patient’s change of mind is not communicated to the practitioner?

Suppose an elderly woman diagnosed with a terminal illness but, like many Australians, is receiving care at home.  She nominates her son to administer the drug to her at a time of her choosing, and signs a form to that effect.  The drugs are prescribed and provided to her but, some weeks later, she changes her mind.  The new law places no obligation on the son (or anyone except the medical practitioner) to record her change in mind or report it to the medical practitioner.  The son decides that he will administer the drug anyway, and the forms provide him with the legal “right” to do so.  The supposedly “safe” legislation does absolutely nothing to prevent this situation and indeed, by giving the power to kill to ordinary Australians, actually makes it a real possibility.

Section 11 of the draft legislation prevents one of the medical practitioners for benefitting financially from the death (eg, through a bequest in the will) but not the person nominated to administer the drug.  It’s wide open for exploitation!

Why can’t more people challenge the decision?

There is an ability in the legislation for the decision to be challenged, on the basis that the person was not of sound mind or was under duress or something like that, but the challenge can only be made by a close relative.  But why is there no right for a person who is not a close relative to raise the alarm?  It might be that a nurse or a next-door neighbour who is familiar with the family dynamics notices something which does not seem right.  It might be a close friend who has concerns.  If we want to ensure that this is a “safe” system, surely the people who are able to seek a review should not be limited to “close relatives,” especially if those relatives have something to gain.

I could go on; I really could.  There is so much more to say about this legislation, and how – despite it being marketed as watertight – a simple reading by an ex-lawyer can drive a truck through its loopholes.

I’m of the opinion that euthanasia legislation can never be safe.  Some people disagree.  But I can tell you for certain that this particular piece of legislation is absolutely unsafe.

Monica Doumit, catholicTalk contributor


Thursday, 25 May 2017 06:24 Written by 


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.