Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has for the first time acknowledged the legal risk that doctors working under state-regulated euthanasia schemes could be prosecuted under Commonwealth laws. Source: The Age.
Doctors supportive of voluntary assisted dying (VAD), and several state governments, have long held concerns that a Howard government amendment to the Commonwealth Criminal Code makes it illegal for phones and computers to be used to discuss and convey information about suicide.
In a decentralised state such as Queensland, that legal uncertainty has prohibited doctors from using telehealth to support VAD patients in regional and remote areas.
Even in a smaller state such as Victoria, where assisted dying is also available, doctors fear prosecution. One GP, Nicholas Carr, has asked the Federal Court to rule on the application of the code to euthanasia schemes.
In submissions to the court, lawyers for the federal Attorney-General argue the offence was introduced in 2005 partly with doctors in mind, and the legal meaning of “suicide” had not changed.
“Although societal attitudes about suicide and assisted dying may have developed since 2005, this alone cannot demonstrate a substantial linguistic development by which the word ‘suicide’ no longer encompasses a person taking their own life in ways provided for in voluntary assisted dying legislation,” they wrote.
In response to Dr Carr’s question to the court, lawyers for the Attorney-General agreed the term “suicide” in the code does apply to end-of-life situations under Victoria’s VAD scheme.
The case is ongoing. After Labor took power, Mr Dreyfus promised to review the issue – he will not comment before the case is concluded – and the issue remains on the agenda for the Standing Council of Attorneys-General.
Assisted dying schemes do not protect doctors from prosecution: A-G (By Sean Parnell, The Age)