Assisted suicide bill raises questions

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Assisted suicide bill raises questions

Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney is set to introduce the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 into the Legislative Council this month. This Bill will legalise assisted suicide for a person who meets the eligibility criteria and who makes three requests to end their life. The Bill has eligibility criteria that are significantly broader than the laws that have been passed in Victoria and WA.

There are five elements to the eligibility criteria that a person must meet:

1. Relevant medical condition: The Bill requires the person to have “a disease, illness, injury, or medical condition, of the person that is serious, incurable and irreversible”. This definition is ambiguous as there is no clear definition of what constitutes a serious medical condition.

This element of the criteria also sets up a two-tiered approach to human dignity: the state will invest money in preventing suicide for some, but enabling it for others based on an eligibility criteria.

Those who are considered eligible for assisted suicide may feel the pressure of their eligibility even if they are determined not to request assisted suicide.

2. Intolerable suffering: A person is defined to be suffering intolerably if they are experiencing “persistent suffering [due to physical or mental pain] that is, in the opinion of the person, intolerable,” and is being caused by their relevant medical condition, their treatment or any complications. The person is not obliged to take any treatment that might potentially improve their health or alleviate their suffering.

This criteria is very broad and subjective, and may include mental pain arising from anticipation of future suffering. It is difficult to see how anyone with a relevant medical condition would not meet this criteria.

3. Decision making capacity: This criteria concerns a person’s ability to give informed consent to receive the lethal poison.

A person is assumed to have the capacity to make decisions unless there is evidence to the contrary. But when it comes to assisted suicide, this needs to be balanced with the obligation to protect the vulnerable.

How can a person who might be elderly or disabled, and suffering mental and physical pain from a serious condition – as well as possibly receiving pressure from others – make a fully free and informed decision to end their life?

Also concerning is that doctors can raise the option of assisted suicide with patients. This is not allowed in Victoria.

4. Age: A person needs to have reached the age of 18 to qualify.

5. Residency: To qualify for this criteria, an individual must have been born in Tasmania or be an Australian citizen or permanent resident that has lived in Tasmania for a continuous period of at least 12 months at some point in their life.

Along with the concerning notion of accepting state-approved assisted suicide, the broad eligibility criteria of this Bill is a major concern as it will apply to a larger proportion of the population in Tasmanian than similar legislation in Victoria and Western Australia.