Former medical association chiefs slam voluntary euthanasia plans

Three prominent doctors are lobbying members of Parliament to reject proposed voluntary euthanasia laws, warning that Victoria would be heading down a "misguided, dangerous path" if assisted dying were made legal. 

The proposed legislation will be introduced on Wednesday, paving the way for MPs to exercise a conscience vote before the end of the year on whether terminally ill Victorians should be able to end their lives.

The three past presidents of AMA Victoria who are calling on MPs to oppose assisted dying legislation. From left: Dr Stephen Parnis, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, and Dr Mark Yates. Photo: Jason South

The three past presidents of AMA Victoria who are calling on MPs to oppose assisted dying legislation. From left: Dr Stephen Parnis, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, and Dr Mark Yates. Photo: Jason South

While many MPs have already expressed a position on the proposed laws, more than 50 of their colleagues have not yet made clear how they will vote. 

Now three past Victorian presidents of the Australian Medical Association – Stephen Parnis, Mukesh Haikerwal and Mark Yates – have united on the steps of Parliament to warn that the laws put the state's most vulnerable patients at risk. They say they will be lobbying MPs right up until the bill is tabled. 

Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the medical workforce had varying views on the euthanasia issue. Photo: AAP

Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the medical workforce had varying views on the euthanasia issue. Photo: AAP

The position of the three senior doctors puts them at odds with former AMA president and neurosurgeon Brian Owler, who chaired the ministerial advisory panel on the issue.

 "This puts the most frail and vulnerable in our community – the dying – at profound risk," Dr Parnis said. "They are at risk of coercion. They are at risk of not getting the medical care that they deserve and need."

Geriatician Dr Yates said the government should not be pursuing the "divisive legislation", and should rather introduce other measures such as a medically supervised injecting room for drug users.

He rejected suggestions the proposed voluntary euthanasia laws represented a "conservative model", as the legislation proposed in Victoria would allow doctors to administer lethal drugs for people physically unable to take them independently. This, he said, was more permissive than the laws in Oregon, which only allowed doctors to prescribe the drugs, not to use them on patients.

Dr Haikerwal, who has voiced his support for same-sex marriage, said the proposed legislation would "fundamentally change" the way medicine is practised in Victoria.

"It will fundamentally change the doctor-patient relationship," he said.

He paid tribute to his colleagues working in palliative care for providing "amazing services with very minimal funding".

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has consistently maintained that strict safeguards will protect patients from coercion, and only adults with decision-making capacity will be able to access the scheme.  

Ms Hennessy said the issue had "many views", which was why MPs would be given a free vote before the end of the year.  

"Death is an extremely intimate and personal experience, a respectful debate considers all different perspectives – and these doctors are entitled to their views and opinions," she said. "But their opinions are not representative of the entire medical workforce – like the Victorian community, the medical workforce has varying views on this."

Premier Daniel Andrews said Victoria would be the first state to legalise assisted dying if the bill passed through the Parliament.

"This legislation will deliver the safest model in the world, with the most stringent checks and balances," he said. 

- The Age