Advocacy for South Australian euthanasia laws to be advanced as activist dies of esophageal cancer

Beth Mylius once asked her oncologist what her final days with terminal esophageal cancer might be like.

“I can expect in the last 10 days that my esophagus will be blocked, I won’t be able to get any food and eventually no water,” she said.

“So I would basically die in great pain, from dehydration.”

The grim outlook was something the Adelaide local wanted to avoid.

“When I get to the point of not being able to communicate, barely conscious, I hope voluntary assisted dying will be available to me.”

But, at 90, Ms Mylius never got her wish.

Although South Australia voted to legalize euthanasia a year before his death in June 2022, the legislation has still not been enacted.

“Forced to suffer or commit suicide”

Under the previous Liberal government, the laws were due to come into force in March 2023, 22 months after they were passed by Parliament.

The state’s new Labor government told the ABC it plans to bring forward the implementation date of the state’s Voluntary Euthanasia Act from March to January 2023.

However, euthanasia campaigners argue the delay is still too slow and leaves many terminally ill people suffering.

Voluntary Assisted Dying SA president Frances Coombe hopes the law will come into force sooner.(ABC News: Carl Saville)

Voluntary Assisted Dying South Australia chair Frances Coombe said she was regularly contacted by those who wanted the choice.

“I get distress calls almost every week from people wanting to know what day the law is going to be activated,” Ms Coombe said.

“The head of our nurses’ advocacy group said she knows people who have taken their own lives because they have no choice.”

Advance deployment date

New health minister Chris Picton said he was doing everything he could to speed up the deployment date.

“We can at least move this forward to the end of January, but if we can explore an avenue where we can still move this forward, we absolutely will.”

Mr Picton said the slowness was partly down to the way South Australia’s laws were passed.

“It was [then-shadow attorney-general] Kyam Maher, who was in opposition at the time, introduced this private member’s bill,” Picton said.

“Once the bill was passed, there was nothing in place since the end of the government at the time to begin this work of implementation, and it took another six months before this was put in place. .”

“We don’t want any accidents”

Australian Medical Association Vice President Dr Chris Moy was appointed Chair of SA Health’s Physician-Assisted Dying Task Force in January 2022.

He said that, given the delay, the task force was having a good time on a very complicated task.

The SA President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Chris Moy.
Dr Chris Moy says there is a lot to consider before putting the laws into effect.(ABC News: Claire Campbell)

“We are talking, for the first time, about the deliberate prescribing of deadly drugs,” Dr. Moy said.

“We don’t want accidents where people might die because they have access to it.

“We could be talking about children, rural and remote, we could be talking about people in a nursing home, with dementia coming into the room after someone’s taken the drugs.”

Dr Moy said these situations need to be addressed because of the “incredible consequences of this”.

Other states are leading the way

Dr. Moy said the task force is borrowing as much as possible from states that have already legalized voluntary assisted death.

“We try to borrow, copy and paste as much as possible from these states, to speed up the process,” he said.

“But there are aspects of our legislation [that] are unique.”

He said that although South Australia’s legislation closely mirrors that of Victoria, the task force faced some factors which the state did not have to respect, such as remote communities in the back -country.

“Some of the drugs have a very short expiry date,” Dr. Moy said.

He said federal laws criminalizing electronic suicide communication – and how they interacted with the way South Australia’s law was structured – further complicated matters.

“We get legal advice on this, but an inability to do that means we can’t use the phone or email or that sort of thing to give very specific advice, for example, to the doctor who actually supports his patient or the patients themselves.”

A woman with glasses and bangs dressed in a white shirt and blazer stands in front of a grassy area
Michelle Lensink agrees that the laws are complicated.(ABC News)

Opposition spokeswoman for health in South Australia, Michelle Lensink, agreed that the legislation was complicated and unique.

“We have quite different laws than other jurisdictions, so the power of attorney laws and advances [health] the care guidelines are quite different in South Australia so we have to interact well with all those laws,” she said.

“There was no delay. March 2023 was set as the deployment date, and it was on track when we left government.”

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