A concerned Australian journalist
December 4, 2009
South Australia has proposed controversial new legislation, in an unprecedented move to legalize forced medicine, civil libertarians say. Under the guise of public health, the South Australian Health Minister John Hill has introduced the South Australian Public Health Bill 2009 into state Parliament. It is feared the Bill will authorize a massively expanded new public health department — in addition to the already existing one — which will wield authoritarian powers that threaten to radically change current medical practice and leave wide spread human and civil rights violations in its wake.
The state has extensive public health statutes already in place allowing the health department wide powers in case of public health risks such as epidemics, but the new Bill harmonizes with the World Health Organizations’ International Health Regulations to which Australia is a signatory. The Bill introduces the new disease category of ‘controlled infectious diseases’, which allows authorities unprecedented powers over persons even suspected of having an infectious disease. The Bill’s explanatory paper states; [The Bill] Provides for a clear scheme for the management and control of persons with controlled infectious disease … [it] provides for a compulsory scheme of clinical examination, counseling, direction, treatment orders and detention or isolation orders.
This means health department authorities can forcibly test, examine, counsel, treat, detain, or isolate anyone suffering of any disease or anyone suspected of having a disease.
Incredibly, the Bill also claims powers over those with chronic non-infectious diseases. Clause 57 allows the health minister to declare non-infectious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and vascular problems — a public health risk. Clause 58 allows the health department to set down a ‘code of practice’ which impose standardized medical treatment protocols for each condition, requiring doctors to prescribe only the official drugs and treatments approved by the government. The code of practice includes government control of health information given to the public. Those in the allied health industry fear the law could restrict or end independent sources of health information, complementary medicines, health product network marketing and a choice in doctors. Consumer groups fear the Bill has the power to end health choices while reducing doctors to prescribing standardized treatments. One watchdog group spokesman said he believed the Bill gave drug companies an open door to persuade health departments to mandate their products while stifling independent information.
Libertarian groups have expressed concern about the coercive nature of the Bill. Clause 59 deals with notifiable conditions. Currently, any person seeking treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, or a childhood disease such as measles or mumps, or a simple case of the flu must be reported to the health department. Clause 60 of the Public Health Bill, imposes $10,000 fines on doctors, pathologists and labs for failing to report a case of flu or any other notifiable disease within 3 days of even ‘forming a suspicion’ that a person has the disease. Under the new law, the health department has the power to request any confidential information about patients, which doctors must supply on threat of a hefty fine. A special clause protects doctors from any breach of patient confidentiality or ethical breaches in case patients complain about their medical information being passed on to various government departments. The new Bill ensures the public will not be able to access public health department information through the Freedom of Information Act 1991. Critics say this makes the health department entirely non-transparent and non-accountable to the public. The clause also expands the list of notifiable diseases to ‘notifiable micro-organisms’, meaning the minister can declare any disease-causing micro-organism a notifiable disease, including future, as yet unidentified new germs. Once the minister declares a micro-organism to be notifiable, Clause 64 allows the health department to seize vehicles or other belongings and impose quarantine on persons or entire regions.
While many would regard these powers reasonable and necessary to contain serious plagues, critics claim that Clause 65 widens these powers into all other non-infectious conditions. The Bill’s explanatory paper states that under Clause 65: A disease or medical condition can be declared to be a controlled notifiable disease or medical condition by regulation. In the interests of public health in urgent circumstances, the Minister can declare a disease or medical condition a controlled notifiable disease…
This means health department officials can force persons with conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, or cancer to undergo a medical examination and testing followed by forced treatments, and detention. Clause 70 gives the government power to force ‘counseling’ and ‘education’ or; other activities that help a person understand the implications of a controlled notifiable disease if a person has failed to participate in a relevant counseling activity despite being given a reasonable opportunity to do so’. Clause 71 gives the health department power to force persons, among other things to; reside at a certain place, to not visit specified places, to not associate with specified persons or classes of persons, to attend specified meetings and provide reasonably required information, to be under the supervision of a person nominated by the Chief Public Health Officer.
With already wide ranging control over all diseases and conditions, the Bill gives the health department additional power to automatically override all parental consent. At the same time, large populations can be controlled through Clauses 4-6 setting out requirements for ‘population monitoring’ and other ‘systemic measures’ requiring local councils to regularly report to the health department about persons alleged or even suspected of causing health risks. Once enacted, no one will be able to avoid the legislation – even when dead. Clause 78 permits the government to carry out any procedure or tests on dead people, despite any objections from the relatives.
The Bill has extra clout with its substantial fines ranging from $60,000 to $1 million and 10 years’ jail for those who do not comply with the tough new health measures.
Some have hailed the Bill as a welcome reform to public health. The South Australian health minister, John Hill writes in the Bill’s explanatory paper, ‘This Bill, if passed, will provide South Australia with forward looking legislation for public health that meets international standards. It will provide for systematic approaches to prevention and health promotion and stronger, more robust powers for protecting public health and for dealing with public health emergencies. It also enables South Australia to meet and respond to the public health challenges that will confront us in the 21st Century.’ Meanwhile, Australian Medical Association State President, Dr Andrew Lavender said he approved of the changes, claiming they were important to protect the public.
The only politician opposing the Bill so far has been opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge. ‘It’s bordering on nanny-state legislation,’ he said. ‘It’s understandable, but how far do we go?’
Since the Bill was introduced into the SA state Parliament, it has caused a furor among health care advocates who fear it could spell the end of health choices, undermine the public’s trust in doctors, and usher in the end of democracy in the State of South Australia.