The churches operating Queensland’s biggest private hospitals and nursing homes have warned they will be forced to facilitate voluntary euthanasia for dying people under legislation to go before state parliament shortly. Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge and the Uniting Church’s Queensland moderator, Andrew Gunton, said the draft bill released by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk failed to deliver a promised right of “institutional conscientious ­objection”. Dr Coleridge said the legislation would allow patients who requested help to die but were too ill to be moved from a Catholic hospital to bring in outside doctors to assess them and potentially administer a death-dealing dose.

“That was something that surprised and concerned me about the draft bill,” he said. “It seemed to give with one hand and take with the other, what seems to be a concession to the rights of institutional conscientious objection is in fact no real concession at all.” Reverend Gunton said if aged care home clients were classed as permanent residents they could demand that a request for Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) by carried out on site, even though the Uniting Church was adamant it would have nothing to do with euthanasia. “It seems incredibly unfair and not to what the spirit we thought this was going to be, having institutional conscientious objection,” he said. “We think it undermines the very principle which we are fighting for, our right to express our faith-based values in the facilities we run.”

Catholic Health Australia provides one in five hospital and aged care beds in Queensland, listing in its portfolio Brisbane’s Mater Hospital group and Mercy Community Services, while the Uniting Church runs four major health care centres, including the Wesley Hospital, also in Brisbane, as well as 47 nursing homes state-wide. While the draft legislation framed by the Queensland Law Reform Commission recognises the right of conscientious objection for medical staff and for institutions to advertise a faith-based position against VAD, Reverend Gunton said the bill otherwise was “incredibly vague”. Catholic Health Australia chief executive Pat Garcia said the existing provisions would force faith-based hospitals and homes to enable VAD on the premises. “There is no choice in that,” he said.

“We have to consider the impact this supposedly voluntary scheme will have on nurses, residents and patients who choose to work, live and be treated in facilities that have expressly said they will not offer VAD. It’s a serious anomaly that must be addressed.” Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) framework allowed any institutional “entity” to opt out of VAD, but it would be required to transfer a person who qualified for assisted dying to somewhere else that allowed it. “In some situations, requiring an individual to be transfered to a different hospice when they’re close to death and in great pain, would subject them to distress or deny them access to VAD,” he said. “It’s important the VAD scheme provides all Queenslanders who are suffering with equal end-of-life choices, irrespective of where they live.”

Mr Miles and Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman attended a meeting with church representatives where their concerns about being roped into VAD were put. There would be a 12-week period of further consultation after the Bill was introduced into Parliament by Ms Palaszczuk.  Queensland is the fifth state after Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia to enact or introduce the right to die for terminally ill people.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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