Qld assisted dying tackles discrimination

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Medical professionals who object to voluntary assisted dying on ethical grounds will not have to explain their reasoning under Queensland’s proposed laws.

A requirement for mandatory training for those participating in the state’s scheme prevents conscientious objectors from being forced to disclose their beliefs, a parliamentary committee has been told.

“Being forced to publicly wear those conscientious beliefs on their sleeves may expose them to discrimination…in extreme cases may expose them to violence, and is actually a violation of their right to having a degree of privacy of thought and belief,” Law Associate Professor Wendy Bonython told the hearing into the state’s VAD bill on Thursday.

The mandatory training requirement instead allows practitioners to state “that they’re not accredited and refer patients to practitioners who are”, Professor Bonython said.

This method of opting out also captures people whose objection is not grounded in religious belief.

“There are plenty of practitioners who are uncomfortable with voluntary assisted dying, who are agnostic or even atheistic, but nonetheless have strong systems of ethical and moral beliefs,” Prof Bonython said.

The hearing also heard of potential conflicts with ethically opposed doctors feeling compromised by referring patients on to access VAD services.

Phillip Parente, a Melbourne oncologist who initially objected to assisted dying on religious grounds before having a change of heart, said referrals were an effective way to ensure access to legal medical services.

“”Just because you refer does not mean that you agree to what’s going on. It’s enabling access, and we live in a country that’s non-secular,” he said.

He compared the process to medical professional uncomfortable with providing abortion services.

“When I refer for people to have an abortion, I don’t agree with that… but it doesn’t mean that I’m subscribing to it,” Dr Parente said.

“I’m enabling this patient to see a doctor to make a choice.”

More than 30 witnesses are appearing before the Queensland parliament committee hearing on Thursday as the state prepares to debate the proposed legislation in September.

Among them is Exit International’s Philip Nitschke – the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, lethal voluntary injection in the Northern Territory in 1996.

Dr Nitschke is scheduled to appear by video link on Thursday afternoon.

Under the Queensland bill, patients must have either a disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and terminal.

Their condition must be expected to cause their death within 12 months and it must be causing suffering that is “intolerable”.

If passed, an assisted dying scheme could be functioning in Queensland from January 2023.

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