Monday, December 4, 2017

Is Self-Administration Enforceable?

By Margaret Dore, Esq.

Victoria's deceptively named Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill uses the term, "self-administer," at least 30 times.[1] Indeed, self-administration of the lethal dose was a major selling point of the bill, to convince the public and Parliament that patients would be in control.

But, the term is not defined.

When a term is not defined, a court or other interpretative body will often look at how the term is used in other jurisdictions.

In the US, Washington State's similar law also uses self-administer, which is defined as the "act of ingesting." Washington's law states:
"Self-administer" means a qualified patient's act of ingesting [the lethal dose] .... (Emphasis added).[2]
With this definition, a patient's mere ingestion of the lethal dose is sufficient to comply with Washington's law, for example, if the patient absorbs the dose via a patch while she's sleeping.[3]

With Washington's law having an actual definition of "self-administer," it would not be unreasonable for an Australian court or other interpretive body to adopt the definition. If so, the purported "safeguard" of  a patient having to actively administer the lethal dose to himself or herself will be unenforceable.

* * *

[1]  Victoria's bill can be viewed here.
[2]  Washington's law, § 70.245.010(12), states in its entirety:
"Self-administer" means a qualified patient's act of ingesting medication to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner.
[3]  “Ingest” means: "to take (food, drugs, etc.) into the body, as by swallowing, inhaling, or absorbing."