It has often been observed that, to make palatable what is decidedly unpalatable, euthanasia bills invariably use all sorts of euphemisms to attempt to soften or obliterate the reality that euthanasia is nothing more that deliberate killing under the cover of state approval.
Moreover, in the attempt to make into law something that is unnatural; namely: intentional killing; such bills will often come up against what we could call ‘roadblocks of logic’ in various forms. Those designing bills need to find a way around these problems.
One such ‘logical roadblock’ comes in trying to answer the question: what do we do about life insurance? Life policies usually include exclusion for certain events such as suicide or self-harm. One Australian Insurer puts it this way:
(Excluded) In the first 13 months of your policy*, suicide or intentional self-harm.*From the date the policy started or was reinstated. If you have increased your cover amount, the same waiting periods apply to the increased component of your benefit.
This stands to reason. Premiums set by insurance companies by their actuaries take into account the likely sum of premiums over the lifetime of the insured as well as the likelihood of sudden death from accidents etc. to arrive at a premium that, across the breadth of the term and the sum of premiums of all persons insured, will ensure that the company makes a profit whilst still paying out on its obligations to the insured.
The exclusion for suicide or self-harm protects the insurance company from, as far as is possible, the risk that someone would create a policy in the full knowledge that they intended to suicide after paying out only a small amount in premiums.
In his South Australian Ending Life with Dignity Bill 2013, The Hon Bob Such has attempted to deal with this roadblock by going 'off-road'. Remember, in Such’s bill anyone with a terminal illness can qualify:
(2) Despite any other Act or law, a person is only terminally ill for the purposes of this Act if—(a) the person has a terminal illness; and(b) the illness is causing unbearable suffering which cannot be alleviated to a degree the person finds acceptable.
Someone with a terminal illness who is not suffering unbearably apparently doesn’t have a terminal illness at all - at least in terms of this bill! As a friend of mine is wont to observe: life is a terminal illness! But I digress.
Note that the bill does not limit the application to the terminal phase of a terminal illness (as expressed in at least one earlier bill) or in respect to the prognosis (less than 6 or 12 months to live). So it could apply to a diagnosis where the normal trajectory of the illness could be many years or, indeed, where there’s some possibility of long-term remission.
This has implications for life insurance companies both in the particular and in a more general sense. They could be foregoing any number of years in premiums which could, overtime, affect their premium structure across their entire portfolio.
Such has not spoken, as far as I am aware, on why he included a clause that obfuscates the cause of death for anyone availing themselves of the bill’s provisions (another logical roadblock):
39—Cause of death
For the purposes of the law of this State, and for any other purpose, the death of a person resulting from the carrying out of a voluntary euthanasia request in accordance with this Act—(a) will be taken to have been caused by the person's relevant illness, injury or medical condition; and (b) is not suicide or homicide.
In addition to forcing a doctor to lie on the death certificate, this clause has further implications for the insurance industry. The Industry blog from CommInsure recently canvassed this issue:
Firstly, the 12 - 13 month preclusion period for suicide, which is built into most Australian life insurance policies, could become unenforceable if a person took their own life in accordance with a voluntary euthanasia provision. In this instance they would be deemed to have died from the relevant medical condition, and not suicide or even homicide (section 39 (a) and (b)).
Insurers would not be permitted to withhold payment under these circumstances, even if the life insurance policy prohibited suicide (section 40(3)).
There is something of a category distinction that needs to be acknowledged here. Euthanasia may well be at the request of the patient, but it is not, in the classical sense, suicide. Homicide is probably closer to what actually occurs (and Such’s clause 39(b) actually acknowledges this).
But there’s more! Also from the insurance blog article:
The new rules could also render all pre-existing condition clauses, relating to the death of an individual in the event of voluntary euthanasia, null and void. The proposed bill could impact not only on group insurance but retail life and direct insurance as well.
Secondly, under the proposed new rules, the section relating to the payment of life insurance proceeds (Section 40 (1) and (2)) would prohibit the life insurer from asking members any questions relating to their intention to end their life during the underwriting process. Insurers could attract a $10,000 fine for doing so (Section 40 (2)).
This could have a significant impact on death and terminal illness premiums as it could translate to increased risk of death or terminal illness payments. The increased risk of claim would result in increased premiums for all policy holders.
The sections of the bill referred to above are as follows:
(1) An insurer is not entitled to refuse to make a payment that is payable under a life insurance policy on death of the insured on the ground that the death resulted from the carrying out of a voluntary euthanasia request if it was carried out in accordance with this Act.
(2) A person is not obliged to disclose a voluntary euthanasia request to an insurer, and an insurer must not ask a person to disclose whether the person has made a voluntary euthanasia request.Maximum penalty: $10 000.
(3) This section applies despite an agreement between a person and an insurer to the contrary.
So, the effect of this clause could well be that the terminally ill person could purchase a new policy or increase the cover of an existing policy in full knowledge of the fact that they intended to die by euthanasia in the near future. Outside the confines of this clause, this would likely amount to insurance fraud by the omission or withholding of the details. The bill may actually be, unwittingly, encouraging insurance fraud!
As the CommInsure blogger observed, this could cause the industry to radically rethink their approach to terminal illness generally. Moreover, the observation that The increased risk of claim would result in increased premiums for all policy holders points to the reality that euthanasia does have a deleterious effect upon society that, in one way or another, affects us all.
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