C H N State Liberal MP to push death law

 

State Liberal MP to push death law

Carol Nader
June 21, 2007


A STATE Liberal MP is proposing to move a private member's bill that would allow doctors to provide medication at the request of terminally ill patients to help them die.

The proposal by veteran MP Ken Smith came as Bracks Government MP Maxine Morand, the parliamentary secretary for health, yesterday voiced support for voluntary euthanasia at a rally on the steps of Parliament House.

If Mr Smith's bid to introduce the bill is successful, it is possible that the Victorian Parliament could have another emotive conscience vote.

Ms Morand's personal view is at odds with the Government's stance on euthanasia. Premier Steve Bracks has previously said that if there was a conscience vote on euthanasia, "I'm not predisposed to support it". State Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu has indicated he is personally in favour of voluntary euthanasia.

Under the Medical Treatment Act, patients can legally refuse medical treatment. But Rodney Syme, vice-president of Dying with Dignity Victoria, says the law is "opaque" when it comes to doctors giving terminally ill patients medication to relieve their symptoms, knowing that it could also hasten their death.

Dr Syme has left himself open to prosecution for assisting suicide by admitting he gave terminally ill man Steve Guest medication that may have helped him die. Dr Syme says his intent was not to help Mr Guest die, but to relieve his suffering. Mr Guest had cancer of the oesophagus and took his own life about two years ago.

Dr Syme says he made the admission to highlight grey areas in the legislation.

Mr Smith yesterday talked to Ms Morand and Greens MLC Colleen Hartland about the possibility of co-sponsoring a private member's bill. He said each would speak to their respective parties.

Such a bill would make it not an offence to confidentially advise a terminally ill person or to "assist or support" a death, Mr Smith said. "It's got to be at the request of the patient," he said.

"I feel very strongly about this. I've seen a lot of people die, a lot of people in agony, and a lot of people who shouldn't have to put up with pain but they did. I just think that something like this would be a worthwhile contribution to my time in Parliament."

Ms Morand, a former nurse, said she had discussed the possibility of a private member's bill with Mr Smith, but wanted to discuss it with her party before proceeding.

"I am supportive of voluntary euthanasia and have been for a long time, but I've always taken a view that I'd like to work within the party," she said.

"I've said to Ken that I would have some further discussions with my colleagues and get back to him."

Mr Smith's proposal has already earned the support of the Greens, with Ms Hartland saying she was keen to co-sponsor a private member's bill.

"It would be that basic right of people to be able to access drugs that would assist them to die, and die at their choosing," she said.

She said it was important for bills of this nature to be co-sponsored because they needed to cross party lines. When Federal Parliament had a conscience vote on allowing the abortion drug RU486 to be widely available in Australia, the bill was sponsored by four women from four different parties.

Tim Pigot, spokesman for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, said the Government believed the Medical Treatment Act gave sufficient support for doctors and individuals when a patient was approaching the end of their life. The act allows a competent person to refuse medical treatment for a condition and to nominate someone as an agent to make medical decisions on their behalf, should they become unable to make such decisions for themselves.

SOURCE State Liberal MP to push death law

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