Revelations that public health doctors in Victoria feel they are being gagged from warning against the Andrews Government state-sanctioned assisted suicide bill should ring alarm bells for Upper House MPs as they contemplate the bill this week.
“This is a real indictment on the process that doctors, who know the weaknesses inherent in the bill, arguably better than anyone else, have not been adequately heard or feel frightened to warn about the dangers in the legislation,” Australian Christian Lobby Victorian director Dan Flynn said.
“What is it that the doctors have not been able to share with the public and MPs? If they see that the so-called ‘safest’ euthanasia legislation in the world as fundamental failing, surely they should be allowed to amplify these views without fear of losing their jobs.
“Can Premier Andrews explain why doctors might feel gagged and if the doctors’ concerns are justified?
“The prudent thing to do is to put the state sanctioned assisted suicide bill on ice, and to reassure public health doctors that they will not be punished or lose their jobs for speaking the truth.
“We cannot press ahead with this bill so long as major stakeholders have not been heard.
“The doctors’ views should be canvassed and adequate time given for them to address parliamentarians before big life and death mistakes are made.”
Mr Flynn said it was concerning that only those in the private health sector, such as St Vincent’s Hospital felt free to speak out without fear of reprisals.
He said at the very least parliamentarians should respond to seven questions (see list of questions below) drawn up by the head of infectious diseases as St Vincent’s Hospital, Dr John Daffy.
“The fact that no one, including parliamentarians, has been able to give a satisfactory answer to any of these questions should be reason enough for parliamentarians to pause and reflect before voting on this dangerous legislation,” Mr Flynn said.
Dr Daffy: “If anyone tells you this process is going to be safe, don't believe them. They are not lying. They are just misinformed or have been given the wrong advice. Make no mistake: depressed, coerced and vulnerable people will die under Victoria’s assisted suicide model when they shouldn't. This is a process which can’t be made safe, no matter how many “safeguards” are in place.”
“High quality palliative care is what’s required for all Victorians approaching their end of life. It’s not available to us all and we can do much better.
“Before they vote on this issue, Victorian MPs have a responsibility to dig deeper, think harder, and contemplate more thoroughly the risks, consequences and uncertainties of assisted suicide beyond their talking points.
“And if they can’t answer these seven questions then they shouldn’t be supporting the legislation.”
SEVEN QUESTIONS. THAT’S ALL
As an infectious diseases specialist with 25 years’ experience caring for some of Melbourne’s sickest patients, many of them at death’s door, I have just seven questions about the dangers of Victoria’s proposed assisted suicide model, and I’m yet to find anyone – including Members of Parliament – who can provide me with a satisfactory answer to a single one.
The broader public are said to be supportive of assisted suicide in principle, but I challenge anyone not to have second thoughts while these questions remain unanswered.
1. Why is it acceptable that no psychiatrist is involved in the proposed assisted suicide process when depression is notoriously difficult to diagnose and a major driver behind terminally ill patients wanting to die?
2. Why doesn’t the model mandate the involvement of a palliative care specialist, so the patient is fully aware of all possibilities of care before killing themselves? Only palliative specialists truly know what this superior care can offer.
3. Why is 12 months the defined time frame for death? They don’t like to admit it, but doctors are actually poor at predicting the time a person has to live. New and truly lifesaving drugs are becoming available all the time. Remember: Jim Stynes and Jarryd Roughead had exactly the same disease.
4. Why is it acceptable that the two doctors signing off on a patient’s suicide don’t need to be a treating doctor or even inform the treating doctor? A patient need only find a Dr Nitschke and a Dr Kevorkian to approve their eligibility for the process.
5. Why is it acceptable that there will be no way of knowing the actual circumstances of how a lethal medication will be taken, or indeed if it is taken, and where the drug will end up? Astonishingly the model only requires self-reporting about what happens with the drug, which could be given without a patient’s knowledge or even handed to someone else.
6. Why is it acceptable that under the model a patient’s death certificate will be falsified, recording their terminal illness as the cause of death as opposed to suicide? Let’s be clear, we are talking about knowingly populating a legal document with false information. Truly we are living in a post-truth world.
7. How many errors and intentional state sponsored wrongful deaths are Parliament – and the Victorian public – happy to accept? Coercion and elder abuse is real and increasingly documented, I have seen its targets in my own personal medical practice. It is also often subtle and hidden. The overseas experience is that large numbers of people who participate in assisted suicide do so because they fear being a burden. Mistakes happen in every medical system, including systems of euthanasia and assisted suicide.