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Health Law in Australia.

Health Law in Australia

Edited by Ben White Fiona McDonald and Lindy Willmott

Publisher: Thomson Reuters Australia

July 2010. Price: $115


To establish my credentials as reviewer of Health Law in Australia, I begin by explaining that I am employed by Avant Mutual Group (Avant), which is Australia's largest Medical Defence Organisation and has a membership of more than 55,000 registered health practitioners. Avant provides medical indemnity insurance policies for health practitioners and private hospitals as well as developing and presenting comprehensive risk advisory and educational services to its members. Avant has offices in every state and operates a '24/7' medical legal advisory service to its members. My colleagues and I, who participate in this '24/7' service, deal with an average of over 11,000 calls per year from members seeking advice on a range of medico-legal issues. The types of calls we receive range from routine enquiries, such as a GP seeking advice on how long a medical record is required to be retained, to the '3am emergency' call. A recent '3am' example was a call from an obstetrician seeking urgent legal advice in dealing with a woman in labour who was refusing a caesarean section, despite the fact that if surgery was not performed there was a high probablity that the foetus would die, or at the very least suffer significant impairment.

The acute need for our medico-legal advisers to have ready access to good health law references on topics from abortion to withdrawal of treatment, and everything in between, does not need emphasis. Over the last 20 or so years during which I have practised health law, I have probably read every text on this field relevant to Australian jurisdictions. In this time I have come across the good, the bad and the unreadable. Over this period I have been earnestly searching and hoping for a text that would cover health law issues with sufficient breadth and depth not only to assist our team in providing routine general health law advice to members, but also to be one that I would be able to place beside my bed, in the confidence that when that '3am call' comes in I will have a reference that will guide me to accurately provide that initial emergency advice.

I am pleased to report that I have now found that text in the publication Health Law in Australia. The book's editors have, in my view, ably met their stated purpose, 'to describe and analyse the broad and rapidly changing field of health law in Australia'. This has been achieved because they have managed to attract contributions from the 'A list' of health law authors in Australia today, including Belinda Bennett, Cameron Stewart, Tom Faunce, Tina Cockburn, Ian Freckelton, Danuta Mendelson and Malcolm Parker.

The editors have organised the book into five parts. The first part, titled 'Introduction to Health Law', provides a helpful and detailed description and analysis of health law sources in Australia, bioethics, and the legal framework of the Australian health system. Part II covers the 'bread and butter' of health law and reflects the predominant subject areas of the work provided by our medico-legal advisers. Titled 'General Principles of Health Law', this part covers issues of consent, including an excellent summary of the statutory and common law exceptions to the need to obtain consent; the complex issue of determining when a young person is able to provide a valid consent to treatment; the jurisdictional differences between various state and territory approaches to dealing with the appointment; and recognition of substitute decision making for adults who lack capacity. The 'difficult' issues are not overlooked and Chapter 4 contains one of the most useful summaries concerning the law relating to refusal of treatment by pregnant women I have yet read. Part II also covers the topic of medical negligence, comprehensively analysing the effects of 'tort reform' on how contemporary medical negligence litigation is conducted. In addition, it addresses the issue of privacy and access to health records, which is rapidly becoming the 'number one issue' about which our members are seeking advice.

In Part III, titled 'Beginning of Life,' Belinda Bennett executes a masterful summary and analysis of the law relating to assisted reproductive technology, abortion and surrogacy. In Part IV 'end of life' issues such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, the withdrawal of treatment and the doctrine of double effect are expertly dealt with by the subject masters in this area: Cameron Stewart, Ben White and Lindy Willmott. Most welcome in Part IV is the detailed analysis of a series of recent Australian case authorities relating to advanced care directives and cessation of life-sustaining treatments to patients in institutionalised care. Part V provides coverage of a range of health law issues, including Australia's recent change to a national system for regulation of health professionals, mental health law, organ and tissue donation, and the regulation of biotechnology.

The beauty of this book is that not only does it contain information of sufficient breadth and detail to make to it a valuable reference, but the clarity of writing throughout the book also make it a most enjoyable and engrossing read. It is well structured and is most user-friendly, the topics and subtopics being clearly set out and easy to find. In my view, this text is one of the best, if not the best book on health law in Australia and one that accordingly has a permanent spot on my bedside table in readiness for that 3 o'clock in the morning emergency call! Roll on the next edition-please!

Andrew Took RN, LLB(Hons)

Solicitor Supreme Court of NSW

National Manager Medico Legal Advisory Services

Avant Law Pty Ltd

Level 28 HSBC Centre

580 George Street

Sydney NSW 2000


Tel: +61 2 9260 9101

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Article Details
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Author:Took, Andrew
Publication:Health Information Management Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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