Assisted suicide and euthanasia bill proposed in Australian Senate

Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Exposure Draft Bill 2014

A bill to legalize physician assisted suicide and euthanasia has been proposed to the Australian Senate by Green Party Senator Richard di Natale.  Since it is an “exposure draft” it is not in the queue for passage. It includes provisions that provide protection for medical practitioners who refuse to provide the services for “any reason.”  However:

  • The objects of the Act set out in Section 3 do not include the protection of conscientious objectors;
  • The definition of “dying with dignity medical service” in Section 5 includes
    • euthanasia
    •  assisted suicide
    • providing information
  • Since Section 5 is broadly written, it appears that the attending medical practitioner can delegate the act of euthanasia to someone else.
  • Section 11(2)a states that a medical practitioner may refuse to provide euthanasia or assisted suicide “for any reason,” which would include reasons of conscience or religion, but
    • the section pertains only to medical practitioners
      • so it does not protect objecting pharmacists or other health care workers
    • Section 11(2)a does not state that medical practitioners may refuse to facilitate euthanasia or assisted suicide throught referral
  • Section 21 precludes coercion of objecting medical practitioners, but
    • does not preclude coercion of other objecting health care workers, and
    • can be understood to prevent hospices or denominational hospitals from enacting policies against euthanasia and assisted suicide
  • Section 24 provides protection from civil and criminal liability and disciplinary proceedings for medical practitioners who refuse to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide, but
    •  does not clearly offer similar protection to objecting practitioners, since refusing to provide euthanasia or assisted suicide cannot be said to be an omission “for the purposes of the Act,” which are specified in Section 3, and
    • offers no protection at all for other objecting health care workers.
  • There is no provision to protect persons who object to euthanasia for reasons of conscience from discrimination in education or employment.

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