Wednesday, March 30, 2011

South Australia's Steph Key's Euthanasia Bill and disability

Although only introduced days earlier, Private Member's Steph Key's Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences - End Of Life Arrangements Bill 2011 passed its second reading stage in a session with a complete absence of Members of Parliament, known to oppose euthanasia. Whatever the reason for this unprecedented haste with a Private Member's Bill, it means disenfranchisement of the electorate. In particular disenfranchisement of a disability voice.

Interestingly, the Key Bill is backed by the same Health Minister who is presiding over a chaotic health system, where hospitals are filled to 125% capacity and unable to cope. ProLiving advocates full attention to good quality care and support, not a focus on ending lives.

The Key Bill is based on a subtle basis of 'decriminalisation', where a doctor performing euthanasia  would still be criminally liable, but if performing according to the Bill's criteria, would be excused. The difference in outcome is hard to see: isn't it just euthanasia by another name? Of course it is.

So, what of the criteria in this Bill? Do they provide a safeguard to misuse affecting vulnerable people? Unfortunately not. Like in the defeated Parnell Bill, there is no requirement for a terminal illness. A doctor will be excused when perform euthanasia when  they...

(b) ...believe[d]  on reasonable grounds that the person was an adult person of sound mind who was suffering from an illness , injury, or other medical condition that irreversibly impaired the person's quality of life so that life had become intolerable to that person (the qualifying illness); and

(c) the conduct to which the charge relates occurred at the express request of the person; and

(d) the conduct to which the charge relates  was, in all the circumstances, a reasonable response to the suffering of the person.

Nothing about a requirement for a terminal illness.

As many people with disabilities know, and which the research supports, is that doctors often have a negative view of our 'quality of life.'
And what it is 'reasonable', or indeed judged as 'all the circumstances' will be quite different from one person/doctor to the next. If, after the fact, an act of euthanasia would be judged to have strayed outside the yawning barn doors of these criteria, presumably the doctor will get a slap on the wrist as she no doubt acted out of a sense of 'mercy.' And the illegally euthanased person, well... uh... Maybe we can think of something.
As Mark Parnell MP told the SA Parliament when unsuccessfully putting his euthanasia Bill, someone like non-terminally-ill quadriplegic Christian Rossiter, had he been an SA resident, could have availed himself of his Bill. ProLiving sees no reason why the Key Bill does not allow exactly the same latitude.

Because of the creative Parliamentary process that this Bill has undergone, it is very possible that this Bill will soon be passed into law. This is not just a matter for South Australians. What happens there will be a bell whether for it happening in other States.