There are many reasons to be concerned about the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 (the Greenwich Bill.) Here are just ten of the many issues with the Greenwich Bill.
1. Treatable mental illness is no barrier to accessing lethal drugs
The Greenwich Bill makes it clear that mental illness does not make a person ineligible to access euthanasia or assisted suicide. Treatable mental health conditions such as depression, which are known contributors to the decision to suicide, do not prevent lethal drugs being prescribed or administered. What’s more, there is no requirement that a doctor refer a patient suffering a treatable mental illness for psychiatric or psychological assessment or treatment before prescribing them lethal drugs.
2. Doctors can suggest euthanasia and assisted suicide to their patients
Unlike the prohibition under the Victorian regime, the Greenwich Bill allows doctors to suggest euthanasia and assisted suicide to their patients. Allowing doctors to suggest death as a ‘treatment’ option ignores the enormous influence a doctor has over a patient’s end-of-life decisions. Allowing them to suggest to a patient that they end their life puts vulnerable patients at risk of undue influence from doctors.
3. Doctors do not need to specialise in a patient’s illness
The risk posed by allowing doctors to suggest euthanasia and assisted suicide to their patients is compounded when considered in light of the Greenwich Bill providing no requirement that a coordinating or consulting practitioner specialise in a patient’s illness. The doctors who certify that a patient is suffering from a terminal illness and is likely to die within six months and who are supposed to provide them with details about potential treatments do not need to be a specialist in the patient’s condition.
4. Doctors do not need to meet or physically examine the patient
The risk of non-specialist doctors being able to suggest euthanasia and assisted suicide is further exacerbated by there being no requirement for coordinating or consulting medical practitioners to physically examine the patient. All medical consultations, including the first and final requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide and the administration decision can be conducted via telehealth.
5. Standard process can be as short as 5 days
The time between a patient’s first and final request for death can be as short as 5 days. This condensed timeframe means that there is no time for serious reflection, for family to be notified, or for palliative care or mental health specialists to have time to step in and consult. In some circumstances (where the patient is expected to die or lose mental capacity within 5 days), the time period can be even shorter.
6. Conscience rights of doctors are not protected
Even if a doctor holds a conscientious objection to euthanasia and assisted suicide, the Greenwich Bill still requires a doctor to provide information to a patient as required by the Health Secretary. It also requires a doctor to inform the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board every time they conscientiously object to providing euthanasia or assisted suicide. The requirement on doctors to announce their conscientious objection not once, but every time they decline to provide euthanasia or assisted suicide, subjects them to unnecessary and unjust scrutiny.
7. Conscience rights of institutions are not protected
Aged care facilities cannot opt-out of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Even if staff members do not want to be involved and even if residents are aware of this, every aged care facility is nonetheless required to allow doctors and nurses on to the premises for every stage of the euthanasia and assisted suicide process, including allowing them to enter and kill a patient on site. Hospitals can object to having euthanasia occur on the premises, but must still allow Voluntary Assisted Dying Navigators to consult with patients on site.
8. Offenders protected against prosecution
The Greenwich Bill includes a two-year statute of limitations, which means that once evidence comes to light of an alleged offence, prosecutors only have two years to bring charges. If they don’t, then a person can go unpunished for a wrongful euthanasia death. This distinguishes it from other homicide laws, which have no statute of limitations.
9. Process shrouded in secrecy
Those involved in the euthanasia or assisted suicide process, either because of their role as a medical professional or as a party to Tribunal proceedings reviewing decisions made under the law face up to 12 months in prison if they disclose personal information about a patient or any of their medical practitioners. Even the Health Minister is not allowed to access personal information. While this is explained as protecting a patient’s privacy, prohibiting release of information and threatening 12 months in prison for those who breach this prohibition shrouds the process in secrecy and makes it less likely that malfeasance will be detected.
10. Very little detail recorded by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board
The only statistical information required to be kept by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board is the relevant disease or illness, the age of the patient, and whether they live in regional NSW. In Oregon – often lauded as the gold standard of assisted suicide regimes – the Government collects and reports information about whether a patient had been given a psychological assessment before they were given lethal drugs, whether they had private health insurance, their annual income, their education level and their reasons for requesting assisted suicide. Additionally, information about the doctors, such as the length of time the doctor had been treating the patient, is also collected and made public. But the lack of information required by the Greenwich Bill to be collected and publicly reported means the euthanasia and assisted suicide regime is impermeable to public scrutiny.
Courtesy HOPE, Preventing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
Voice your concerns directly to NSW MPs.
The NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice is inviting individuals to submit comments on the bill via an online questionnaire.