139 reasons to delay

26 Feb 2021



The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will return to Parliament next week for further debate. While it is likely that the legislation will be passed, based on the unanimous vote in the Legislative Council and the majority vote in the House of Assembly, any bill must be safe and well written. It must also provide the highest level of protection for both patients and doctors.

AMA Tasmania acknowledges and accepts that a significant proportion of the community, doctors and even our members believe that Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation is required to provide patients with choice; however, consistent with Federal AMA Policy, the World Medical Association, and the Declaration of Geneva; we believe that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person's life. This does not include the discontinuation of treatments that are of no medical benefit to a dying patient.

Following the second reading of the draft Bill in the House of Assembly, the Premier, Mr Gutwein, referred the draft legislation to a University of Tasmania Committee for review and advice. The University of Tasmania independent review of Tasmania's proposed voluntary assisted dying (VAD) scheme together with an internal report from the Tasmanian Departments of Communities, Health, Justice, Police, Fire and Emergency Management was released this week. Both reports have identified numerous issues that would require careful discussion in the lower house.

AMA Tasmania President Dr Helen McArdle added, "while the UTAS review neither endorsed nor rejected the Bill, it identified points for further consideration. We believe it would serve the government and the Tasmanian community in this instance to take The End-of-Life-Choices bill off-line and correct its deficiencies before going to the lower house for a vote."

The Departmental report has identified some 139 concerns with the draft legislation, some quite significant, such as the provision to undertake assessments via video conferencing, which is currently not allowed under Commonwealth legislation.

The UTAS review has also identified several issues which need further work, including the concept of organisational conscientious objection, a previously proposed amendment during the Legislative Council debate.  The review has also recommended establishing referral obligations for non-participating health practitioners. The AMA firmly believes that there should be no requirement for a doctor with a conscientious objection to mandatorily refer to another doctor who is willing to be involved.

We feel that it will take a substantial amount of time to address these concerns through amendments; therefore, any draft Bill debate should be delayed until this occurs.

Dr McArdle continued, "to protect both patients and doctors; it is essential that any legislation is thoroughly worked through and any problems addressed before passing the Bill."

The government must fully own the application of any legislation, and the AMA is lobbying to ensure that only good and well-written legislation is put to a conscience vote.

To be clear, this is not about the pros and cons of VAD; it is about the necessity for well-drafted legalisation passing the lower house.

Published: 26 Feb 2021