Queensland could become the next Australian jurisdiction to legalise euthanasia with the government set to introduce new laws into Parliament next week.
However, one expert warns that the continuing adoption of euthanasia in the country would result in a slippery slope, where “death on demand” becomes the norm.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state Parliament would hold a conscience vote on the Bill, which includes increased safeguards to prevent “doctor shopping” and abuse of the system.
The premier said she was motivated to legalise the practice after witnessing the deaths of her grandmother and uncle last year.
“I’m a Catholic; I’ve thought about this long and hard,” Palaszczuk told reporters on Tuesday. “I’ve had a lot of personal experiences in the last 12 months, and I have made up my mind based on what I have seen and those experiences.”
“This is a choice, and it’s not going to be the right choice for a lot of people, but it’s got to be an option for people, and far be it for me to make that individual choice on how a person wishes to end their life.”
Under the new law, individuals may choose to be euthanised if they have an eligible condition, either a disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and will cause death.
The eligible condition must cause “intolerable” suffering and be expected to cause death within 12 months.
Patients must also be acting voluntarily and without coercion. Health professionals will be tasked with assessing an application, sending it to a second doctor, and receiving approval proceed with the procedure.
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said doctors would be allowed to be “conscientious objectors” who could turn down patients asking for euthanasia.
A “navigator” system would be set up to take patients through the process and find a different doctor.
“They don’t have to go shopping around themselves and trying to find someone at what is a really difficult time for them and their family,” D’Ath told reporters.
Further, the process will allow a doctor to prescribe and supply a substance that a patient can then choose to either administer to themselves or find a health practitioner to do so. An oversight board of existing authorities will be tasked with compliance.
The Bill is set to be debated in September, and if passed, the system is expected to be in place in May 2022.
Queensland’s move comes just weeks after the South Australian upper house approved euthanasia laws. It also follows Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania, who have legalised the practice.
Much of the debate has centred around including additional safeguards to ensure euthanasia is applied to a select segment of society.
However, experiences in Belgium and the Netherlands—the first countries to legalise the practice in 2002—have shown that safeguards are “regularly ignored and transgressed,” according to the medical journal Current Oncology.
In 2011, only 52.8 percent of euthanasia (or assisted dying) cases in Flanders, Belgium, were officially reported in contravention of the laws. Further, despite initial promises of the practice being for the terminally ill, standards have been relaxed to encompass newborns and children.
The first terminally ill minor was euthanised in Belgium in 2016 after requesting it.
Peter Kurti, director of the Culture, Prosperity, and Civil Society Program at the Centre for Independent Studies, warned that Australia’s experience with euthanasia would likely emulate those of Belgium and the Netherlands.
“Advocates of euthanasia assure us that the categories of those eligible are very narrow, most people seek physician-assisted suicide not because of terrible physical pain but because they no longer see a point to living or don’t want to be a burden to others,” he told The Epoch Times.
“Euthanasia tears at the moral fabric of a society. Suicide, as a treatment option, becomes normalised. Doctors, who swear by the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, are permitted intentionally to kill their patients; and death comes to be seen as the most appropriate response to human suffering,” he added. “As the practice spreads across Australia, we can expect to see similar developments here.”
Prior to Victoria’s legalisation of euthanasia in 2017, over 101 oncologists signed a joint letter (pdf) to Parliament calling on MPs to vote against the law.
“We as doctors and medical specialists do not want to intentionally end the lives of our patients or provide them with the direct means to do so,” the letter stated. “Assisted suicide is in conflict with the basic ethical principles and integrity of medical practice and undermines trust in the medical profession.”
“We strive to eliminate suffering but not the sufferers themselves.”