Image: St Vincent’s Hospital Brisbane. Image credit: Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0
Catholic Healthcare providers have pleaded for Queensland not go it alone and deny institutions the right of conscientious objection if it legislates Voluntary Assisted Dying in the coming months.
The call comes in the wake of the Queensland parliament’s Health and Environment Committee recommending the VAD bill pass unchanged on August 20.
It would make Queensland the only state that uses the law to actively force hospitals and aged care homes to go against their values and beliefs and allow assisted dying on their premises.
In its current form the bill empowers doctors to go into hospitals or aged care homes and administer a lethal dose without having to inform or consult the facility, something anathema to basic good governance.
As Catholic facilities provide one in five hospital and aged care beds in Queensland, the impacts of such a provision in the legislation would be significant, and severely undermine the enduring commitment to care they seek to offer.
Francis Sullivan, Chair of the Mater Group, said: “While the Committee’s report is of no surprise we are still optimistic that our current discussions with the Government will ensure the integrity of our hospital service in both public and private sectors.
“We will not tolerate non credentialed doctors coming on site, nor will we assist in the provision of voluntary assisted dying in any of our facilities. There is a practical solution and it will work for all sides of this debate.”
Toby Hall, Group Chief Executive of St Vincent’s Health Australia – which runs private hospitals at Kangaroo Point and Chermside in Brisbane – said: “Allowing unaccredited doctors to enter hospital rooms, with no notice or permission needed, to assist in a medical procedure to help a patient die is a radical and dangerous undermining of patient safety and should be rejected.
“It’s partly why the Queensland AMA is so strongly against the lack of protection for faith-based hospital providers. They know we are the ‘honest brokers’ in Queensland’s health system.
“It’s also about fairness. The Queensland Government is forcing Catholic hospital providers – against our values and beliefs – to open up our facilities to assisted dying. That’s deeply unsettling and shocking to us.
“This is unique to Queensland. No other state that has already passed these laws – Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia – has included such a measure.
“This is not about whether you do or don’t support assisted dying. We are resigned to this Bill passing. This is about fairness. And I think most Queenslanders would feel what is being forced on us is deeply unfair and unbalanced. It must be fixed.
“The Queensland Government has included this measure to address a problem that won’t exist in Queensland when its system is in place.
“St Vincent’s runs several large hospitals including a public hospital in Melbourne and we’ve found a constructive and respectful way forward on this issue. We’ve not received a single complaint or encountered any controversy in Victoria.”
Deputy Premier Steven Miles looked to minimise the impacts on institutions and said cases where VAD doctors would be called in to faith-run facilities would be “very, very rare”.
“It is only those circumstances where it would be unfair … would cause unnecessary suffering to transfer the patient to a provider where those services can be provided,” he told The Australian.
While Mr Miles would have been cheered by the Health Committee concluding its work, it took the deadlock breaking second-vote of Committee Chair Aaron Harper, an avowed VAD proponent, to table the report recommending the legislation be passed unamended.
Three of the committee’s six members – all of the non-Labor MPs – tabled dissenting or reserved-decision reports.
The author of the dissenting report, the Member for Oodgeroo, Dr Mark Robinson, said that in jurisdictions around the world euthanasia had proven to be “unstoppable and irreversible” once introduced.
“Once the euthanasia genie is out of the bottle it doesn’t go back in,” Dr Robinson wrote.
“What is initially proposed as a measure to help a very small number of people, said to be in intolerable physical pain, is progressively broadened to apply to thousands of people, including those with no physical medical condition.
“Initial procedural safeguards are also relaxed. Once you lift the lid on Pandora’s box, there’s no going back.”
The deadlock at Committee level certainly foreshadows the issue of euthanasia will spark intense parliamentary debate before a rare conscience vote is given by both major parties.
The peak health body Catholic Health Australia (CHA), which includes the Mater Group and St Vincent’s under its umbrella, also weighed in on tabling of the Health Committee’s Report.
CHA’s Director of Strategy and Mission Rebecca Burdick Davies said: “We are bitterly disappointed by this outcome, and we call upon all MPs to see common sense and change what is a radical and unfair bill.
“This bill forces those who conscientiously object to assisted dying to enable it. How is that a choice? How is that voluntary? No one should be forced to be an accessory to this scheme.
“Our nurses, residents and patients have chosen to work in hospitals and aged care homes that have a unique ethic of care. Their choices should be honoured.”
It’s still not too late to have an impact on the parliamentary debate.
A “call to action sheet” is provided here if you wish to let your local MP know your views on the euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation before the legislation is voted upon, most likely in mid-September.