Euthanasia bill to bar ‘death tourists’


TERMINALLY ill people wanting a doctor to help them die would have to live in Victoria for at least 12 months to prevent “death tourists” from flying into the state, under a private member’s bill.

The bill, which could be introduced into State Parliament as soon as next month, would allow doctors to prescribe a liquid medication to assist in a patient’s death, but they would not be permitted to administer a lethal injection.

One of three drugs could be prescribed — pentobarbital, secobarbital and amylobarbital. The drugs are all barbiturates, which work by depressing the central nervous system.

The bill, put forward by Liberal MP Ken Smith, also says that at least two doctors would have to deem the patient was suffering from “intolerable pain” and had an incurable illness before medication could be prescribed to help them die.

Only patients could request the medication and they would be able to change their mind at any time.

But as the finer details of Mr Smith’s private member’s bill emerged, the Government indicated it would not support the bill, making it unlikely MPs will have the chance to debate it.

A spokeswoman for Premier John Brumby said the Government had a full legislative program and its priority was to see that legislation implemented.

When told the Government would not support it, Mr Smith said he had not been given the impression the Government would block it. He said he would press ahead anyway. “This is an important piece of legislation,” he said.

The Age first reported in June last year that Mr Smith was considering putting up the bill. At the time, Maxine Morand, then parliamentary secretary for health, was considering co-sponsoring the bill. But when she became Minister for Children, Early Childhood Development and Women’s Affairs and was promoted to cabinet she could no longer co-sponsor it. Greens senator Colleen Hartland will remain a co-sponsor.

Mr Smith, the member for Bass, said he hoped the bill could be introduced in the lower house in April. He was discussing the timing with the leader of government business, Peter Batchelor.

He said the bill would not make reference to euthanasia but would be deemed “physician-assisted dying”. Lethal injection would not be possible because it was “the sort of thing you would do to an animal that was suffering”.

Doctors would have the right to refuse to help patients die if they felt morally opposed to it.

Mr Smith said there was legal ambiguity about euthanasia. “Some doctors are prepared to give an overdose of morphine to put people out of their pain,” he said. “Doctors who care enough about their patient and who believe they should be able to help them … shouldn’t be prosecuted.”