End of Life Choice Bill: Only one doctor needs to check for coercion

 

During the debate on Part 2 David Seymour stated (in his last speech par. 1):

“I thought I should try to address some of the concerns raised by members as quickly as I can. First of all, starting with Alfred Ngaro asking: does the second doctor have to be sure that the person is not coerced? Well, yes they do, because as I was at pains to stress in my opening contribution to this debate, they have to make sure that the person at all times is a person eligible for assisted dying. That means a person who has decided, in their view—no one else’s, in their view—that this is the best way to alleviate their suffering. So the answer to that question is: yes.”

We reckon his claim is incorrect

Only the attending medical practitioner needs to check for coercion [s 8].

The independent medical practitioner is not required to stop the process if pressure is suspected [s 18B].

The independent medical practitioner only needs to assess whether the person is eligible [s 11]. The Interpretation section [s 3] states that, “eligible person has the meaning given in section 4”. Section 4 [s 4] does not mention coercion once.

Section 4 does require that the person “experiences unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable”, but there is no requirement for a doctor to ascertain that the person has come to this view independently and free from pressure.

By the time a person expresses their decision, they may claim it as their own, but they may have come to that decision as a result of coercion that had occurred some time ago. A skilled manipulator could make a victim believe that a decision was their own when it fact it wasn’t.

According to Section 8, the attending medical practitioner only needs to:

do their best to ensure that the person expresses their wish free from pressure from any other person by—

  • conferring with other health practitioners who are in regular contact with the person; and
  • conferring with members of the person’s family approved by the person; ….” [s 8(2)(h)]

 

“Do their best” is subjective and therefore unenforceable.

Again, the person may claim the decision as their own, when in fact they have been influenced by pressure earlier. Pressure can be exerted in subtle ways and behind closed doors. How is a doctor, who may not have met the person before, who does not need to speak to the person face-to-face, and who may be blocked from speaking to key family members, supposed to “ensure a person expresses their wish free from pressure” that had already occurred?