On the 10th of March,
backbencher Steph Key MP introduced a new style of euthanasia and
assisted suicide bill not seen before in South Australia. It is much
like the draft bill circulated by the Health Minister at the time of the
debate on the Parnell bill late last year.
The Criminal Law Consolidation
(Medical Defences – End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill 2011
inserts an amendment to the crime of homicide creating a defence for
medical practitioners and those that assist them (including nurses) to
either killing the patient or providing the means for the patient to
commit suicide. The ‘defendant’ (either a treating medical practitioner
or others as described above) can use this defence, on the balance of
(b) the defendant believed on
reasonable grounds that the person was an adult person of sound mind who
was suffering from an illness, injury or other medical condition that
irreversibly impaired the person’s quality of life so that life had
become intolerable to that person (the qualifying illness);
(c) the conduct to which the
charge relates occurred at the express request of the person; and
(d) the conduct to which the
charge relates was, in all the circumstances, a reasonable response to
the suffering of the person.
Essentially the law would say that such
an action was still homicide but that a defence against such a charge
The bill goes on to add a strange clause
that gives direction as to the intent of the parliament to a court of
(5) In determining whether
particular conduct was a reasonable response to the suffering of a
person with a qualifying illness, a court must have regard to the fact
that the Parliament intends that conduct bringing about the end of a
person’s life is a reasonable response to such suffering in exceptional
circumstances, including where palliative care measures have not
relieved the person’s suffering to a level acceptable to the person.
What does ‘reasonable’ mean? It would
appear that a simple defence such as: “I believed, Your Honour, that my
actions in killing Mrs. ………….. were reasonable” would be defence enough.
It is as though the parliament would be saying: If the doctor said
his/her actions were ‘reasonable’ then we think that they’re
‘reasonable’ and so should a court of law. It seems, essentially to
be a clause designed to dissuade the Director of Public Prosecutions
from taking any case to court.
Leaving aside any further examination of
the bill itself and Steph key’s comments in her second reading speech;
let’s think for a minute about what this kind of bill will really do.
Similar to the Dutch law (and practice over previous decades) it would
allow medical professionals who are happy to kill their patients or to
provide assistance in suicide to ply a trade in death without any
reporting framework and with no guidance except subclause (b) above.
The only risk to a doctor or anyone
aiding him or her would be if someone complained. Any medical
practitioner who, for whatever reason, wanted to act outside the intent
of this law (by, for example, killing or assisting in suicide where
consent was not given by the patient or where the patient did not
qualify in terms of subclause (b)) would simply need to make sure that
there was no-one present who could provide contrary evidence as to the
conduct. This would be particularly easy were the patient living at home
and even easier if the doctor simply provided the means for suicide.
Essentially it is euthanasia and
assisted suicide on demand. The law would have no teeth with little if
any chance of a prosecution.
Yet Steph Key seems to think that this
bill isn’t about euthanasia – or does she:
“It is important to note that this
bill does not decriminalise murder, manslaughter or assisting someone to
commit suicide, nor is it a bill that supports voluntary euthanasia.
Voluntary euthanasia, as we know, is not allowed under the Criminal Law
Consolidation Act, and we do not have laws in this state that support
“What this bill does is provide a
defence for persons—treating doctors and medical practitioners and their
assistants—providing primary care to a prescribed person should they be
charged with hastening or bringing about the death, or intending to do
so, of a patient suffering at the end of their life.” (Hansard 10th
- It does create an exception for assisted suicide;
- It does create an exception for euthanasia
- A defence against ‘bringing about a death’ in terms of the doctrine
of double effect already exists in the State Palliative Care Act where
the intention was to relieve pain and not to kill.
More holes than a Swiss cheese! We can
only hope that the Lower House of the SA Parliament is less confused
than Ms Key!
A copy of the bill can be found here. 2011
SA Steph Key Bill
Paul Russell is Director and founder of the
HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia
Assisted Suicide. Paul has been involved in campaigning and
family and pro-life policy for many years in South Australia and
nationally. This article has been cross-posted from the