On Tuesday, October 27, the Tasmanian Legislative Council recommenced the Committee Stage for the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020. Starting at Clause 14 at around 10am the MLCs debated the merits of various amendments. By midnight (with two meal breaks in between) they had eventually covered the remaining 130 clauses of the bill and dealt with a few new clauses. They adjourned the debate just after midnight with a few remaining additional amendments to be debated in a special session on Friday, October 30.
The key dynamics in the debate were between Mike Gaffney (Independent Member for Mersey) and a coalition of Ruth Forrest (Independent Member for Murchison), Bastian Seidel (ALP Member for the Huon) and Sarah Lovell (ALP Member for Rumney). Mike Gaffney was argued against most of these amendments while his protagonists were trying to tighten up the bill to make it comparable to the Victoria legislation.
Some of the key arguments concerned the following issues:
*Video conferencing consultations: Seidel moved an amendment to Clause 16 to expand the use of video conferencing to the include the first request for assisted suicide but it was defeated. Forrest tried to exclude the use of video conferencing for consultations concerned with determining eligibility for the second and final requests in clause 25 and 54 but was unsuccessful.
*Informing the patient’s family: Gaffney was successful in introducing an amendment to clause 25 to require the primary medical professional, subject to the patient’s consent, to inform close family members about a patient’s first request for assisted suicide/euthanasia.
*the involvement of nurses in administering the lethal overdose: Forrest, Seidel and Lovell argued forthrightly for an amendment to clause 60 to exclude nurses from being Administering Health Professionals (AHPs) who are responsible for administering the lethal overdose to people. The key issues presented were that nurses aren’t well trained to do decision making assessments on patients and that their access to poison is more limited than doctors due to requirements in the Poisons Act. Gaffney grasped at straws to defend the clause but was ultimately successful. Those who voted for the amendment were Forrest, Howlett (Liberal Member for Prosser), Willie (ALP Member for Elwick), Siejka (ALP Member for Pembroke), Seidel and Lovell.
*the requirement to return any unused poison back to pharmacists: Forrest proposed an amendment to clause 71 to require any unused poison to be returned to a pharmacist for disposal. Forrest argued that this was a safety measure to ensure that there was full traceability of “a substance designed to kill.” Once again Gaffney tried to argue against this amendment using the opinion of a few experts. However this time Gaffney was not able to defeat the amendment.
*the review into reducing the minimum age below 18 y.o. was removed: Forrest moved an amendment to clause 142 to remove the review into reducing the minimum age to allow children to access assisted suicide and euthanasia. Gaffney and Valentine (Member for Hobart) argued against the amendment. The amendment was successful by a margin of 11:3.
*health care workers prevented from initiating discussions about assisted suicide/euthanasia: Lovell moved an amendment that involved inserting a new clause that would prevent health workers from initiating conversations about assisted suicide/euthanasia with patients. This amendment is similar to a clause in the Victorian legislation and is aimed at protecting patients who are in a vulnerable position. The amendment was successful by a margin of 10:4.
The Legislative Council is set to resume debate on a few remaining clauses on Friday, October 30.