On Tuesday October 13, Mike Gaffney’s 157 pages/144 clause Assisted Suicide bill began the Committee Stage in the Legislative Council. In this stage, every clause of the bill is worked through and is either agreed to, rejected or amended. The complex nature of the bill and the seriousness of its content meant that progress was slow. After 7 hours of debate the MLCs had only finalised a position on 11 clauses out of the 144 clauses. I was lucky enough to get into the closed gallery to witness proceedings.
There were two major amendments that were voted in that were pushed by Ruth Forrest and the ALPs Sarah Lovell and Bastian Seidel. The first of these amendments was to clause 5 dealing with the relevant medical condition. The amendment introduced a prognosis to the relevant medical condition so that the person needs to have a medical condition, disease or injury that is advanced, incurable, irreversible and likely to cause their death within 6 months or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition. This change brings the bill more into line with the assisted suicide legislation in Victoria and Western Australia as well as Oregon and other states in the USA.
The other major amendment that was agreed upon was to change the oversight authority from a Commissioner to a Commission. This change was intended to shift the model in which power and responsibility vested in one person to one in which legal and medical expertise could be harnessed on a 5 person board along with an executive officer.
Mike Gaffney was not very happy about these two amendments especially the one involving a prognosis. When he realised that he was going to lose the debate on this issue, he tabled a last minute amendment to introduce a 24 month prognosis. He received a frosty reception from both Ruth Forrest and Bastian Seidel for not giving adequate notice of his amendment that ended up being defeated 10 votes to 4.
There were debates about the wording of very intricate details of clauses that I would consider not a high priority. Conversely, clauses concerning decision making capacity and freedom from coercion received only a few minutes of consideration. Barriers to access seemed to take priority over protection for the vulnerable.
The bill will be dealt with again on Tuesday, October 27. It remains to be seen if the MLCs can complete the Committee Stage on that day. If not it will carry over to November 10.