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News Article

Getting away with murder: Steph Key's new bill*
Thursday, March 17, 2011

FamilyVoice Australia research officer Ros Phillips has warned that a new bill* recently introduced by SA Labor MP Stephanie Key would allow some doctors to get away with murder.

“Earlier bills have set up a scheme for legalised euthanasia,” Mrs Phillips said.  “But Steph Key’s bill sets out a series of defences for doctors who kill their patients, or who actively counsel and aid them to commit suicide.

“The law prohibiting murder is fundamental to a peaceful society in which everyone is protected.  Steph Key’s bill would remove that protection.  It would allow a doctor to escape any penalty by claiming that the doctor had given a patient a lethal dose of drugs because the patient found life intolerable and expressly requested to be killed,” Ros Phillips said.

“But there is a fundamental problem with this scenario.  Once the patient is dead, the only witness of what the patient really said would be the doctor.

“The bill would only require a jury to be convinced ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that the doctor was telling the truth.  There is no requirement for any other witnesses, or any written evidence at all,” Ros Phillips said.

“The defence is not limited to cases of terminal illness or extreme suffering – it would apply very broadly.  For example, a pianist with arthritis could be helped to commit suicide or directly killed by lethal injection on the grounds he had a medical condition which impaired his quality of life and that he now found life intolerable.

“The bill could also make it possible for a person to speed up an inheritance by soliciting a doctor to give an elderly relative a lethal dose, taking advantage of the proposed defence for any person who assists or supports a doctor to kill his patient,” Mrs Phillips said.

“This is the most reckless piece of legislation on ‘end of life’ questions that I have seen in any parliament in Australia,” Ros Phillips said.  “If Dr Harold Shipman – the notorious English doctor who killed over 200 of his patients – had the advantage of Steph Key’s proposed defences, he may never have been sentenced to life imprisonment.”

* Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Defences—End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill 2011 introduced in the SA House of Assembly by Hon Stephanie Key on 10 March 2011.


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