A draft assisted suicide and euthanasia bill is currently being circulated for comment and consultation in New South Wales. The consultation is being conducted by the “NSW Parliamentary Working Group on Assisted Dying”. Although this sounds rather official, essentially the members of this group are simply a common interest group of MPs within the parliament.
Not only is this “working group” not an official organ of the parliament, but the consultation itself holds no official status either. You've probably guessed; the members who will oversee the consultation are also the members of the working group!
Like the Ministerial Advisory Panel in Victoria, submissions will be kept in confidence and not published, and there will be no consultations with the public – only community information sessions.
So, good people of New South Wales! Do you think, after all of this takes place, that you'll feel like you've been consulted; that those charged with the grave task of chin-rubbing, head scratching and bill-deliberating will have taken an objective and hard-headed look at the draft? Will the bill be the most comprehensive and “safe” ever?
If you think that – then I've a bridge you might want to buy!
No, this is just another long-winded attempt to buy the public confidence on an issue that they (the public) are decidedly uncomfortable about.
And what of this “draft” bill? No point wasting ink on analysing clauses at the moment: that can wait until the bill is tabled in parliament! Apart from the novel lower age limitation of 25 years, it looks most like almost any other bill we've seen over the last decade and more. This despite the parliamentary group claiming to have “consulted extensively since 2015 with key stakeholder organisations and parliamentarians in NSW on the Bill”. But, maybe they did consult and maybe there are simply just very few ways of couching doctor killing and assisting in suicide in legal terms.
But just for once I'd like to see a bill that used the proper terminology. Not here. “Assisted Dying” is the latest “group think” catch phrase. And even though the bill describes both euthanasia and assisted suicide, apparently “assisted dying” is not the same as euthanasia and assisted suicide simply doesn't rate a mention. Here’s what their “Overview” says:
“Patients may self-administer, or be assisted by their medical practitioners or a nominated person to administer, a lethal substance (as prescribed by regulations) to end their lives, after having gone through the required process outlined in the Bill.”
And then this gem:
“The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 (NSW) is a Bill that provides for physician-assisted dying, not voluntary euthanasia.”
They explain that:
“Physician-assisted dying involves a medical practitioner making a substance available to an eligible patient (after having gone through a process) which the patient then uses to end their lives at a time and place of their choosing.”
They add further:
“The patient is in control at all stages of the process. Whereas voluntary euthanasia involves, in all cases, a medical practitioner carrying out a patient’s request to end their life up until the point of death.”.
This really is despicable. It's one thing to develop talking points for a bill. At a stretch one might want to concede that there may be some legitimacy to a consultation that is not consultative and where the inputs (submissions) will not be able to be perused against the outputs (the final bill).
But hiding the essence of the program in saccharine euphemisms and then denying any relationship at all to the actual outcome is contemptuous of the New South Wales Parliament and the good people of that state.
Perhaps I shouldn't be too harsh given that Victoria is holding to precisely the same line with the endorsement of the Premier and Health Minister. Tasmania and South Australia saw similar levels of subterfuge in recent bills. It is as if there's some kind of new orthodoxy that demands slavish adherence and where the truth itself becomes a heresy.
The last time the New South Wales Parliament devoted time to assisted suicide and euthanasia the bill failed at second reading in the Upper House by a vote of 23 to 13 in 2013. There have been a number of changes in the Legislative Council since then, creating some uncertainty about the possible outcome of this bill, should it ever be debated.