Laws are supposed to be complementary and not contradictory.
Yet the Queensland Government wants to enact a law which will directly cut across a federal law prohibiting the use of ‘carriage’ services to urge suicide. Essentially the State needs the Commonwealth to help it deliver one service to regional and remote areas, that of euthanasia and assisted suicide, when it has manifestly failed to deliver another – palliative care.
The urgency of lobbying by the Deputy Premier, Steven Miles, and other euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates is telling, because when laws like these come into conflict, the Federal legislation takes precedence.
The relevant federal criminal law was amended in 2005 to prevent the use of digital services to incite someone to commit suicide. The ‘carriage’ or digital services referred to include common modern technologies such as telephone, email, SMS, the internet and videoconferencing.
At the time it was introduced, the aim was to safeguard against cyberbullying and other attempts by unethical operators manipulating vulnerable people into suicide online. Who could have anticipated that a mere 15 years later euthanasia and assisted suicide regimes would be operating in Australia?
Whether it was a case of incredible foresight or just luck, this same ban now prevents doctors from signing off on assisted suicide requests via telehealth calls. The argument run by the advocates is that the federal laws weren’t designed with euthanasia and assisted suicide in mind, and therefore they shouldn’t apply to it. Those who care more for the common good and the welfare of vulnerable and marginalised people beg to differ.
These “carriage service” offences are even more crucial now that euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legalised in many Australian states, because they add a much-needed layer of protection for those who are especially vulnerable to these deadly laws.
At a minimum they would compel doctors to physically meet with and examine a patient before signing their death warrant. Without the protection of these “carriage service” laws, a person in a regional, rural or remote community, who does not have access to adequate healthcare generally, could easily be influenced by the quick solution offered by online appointments with a euthanasia doctor.
Furthermore a person deemed ineligible for euthanasia by one doctor could simply shop around online for another until they found one who was willing to agree. A final danger is that doctors who have never visited a rural or remote part of the state would now have the ability and authority to write lethal prescriptions for patients in areas they’ve never been to.
The dreadful irony in all this is that a Federal law legislated long ago may have more teeth than all the much-touted safeguards built into the State Government’s proposed euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation. That the “carriage service” laws go some way to reminding us that the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship is one primarily about care, not killing, is an indictment on ‘progressive’ politics.