Commonwealth limiting human rights in ACT over euthanasia position: Minister

Dominic Giannini 5 March 2021 22
Tara Cheyne

Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne has written to the Commonwealth Government to restore the ACT’s right to legislate on euthanasia. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The fact that Australian territories cannot pass legislation on euthanasia is untenable, indefensible and a breach of Australia’s human rights obligations, according to the ACT’s Human Rights Minister, Tara Cheyne.

Ms Cheyne and the Northern Territory’s Attorney-General, Selena Uibo, have penned a letter to the federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, calling for the restoration of the right to legislate on euthanasia.

Euthanasia was legal in the NT between 1996 and 1997 before the Howard Government passed the Euthanasia Laws Act in 1997 which repealed the right and amended both territories’ self-government acts, removing their ability to legislate on the issue.

“It is untenable and indefensible,” Ms Cheyne said.

“In this letter, we have emphasised our ongoing concerns about the stark inequity between states and territories regarding voluntary assisted dying.

“It is hard to fathom – and embarrassing – that the Federal Government allows a situation to persist which limits some residents’ human rights in our own country.”

The letter refers to Australia’s obligation under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which ensures that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity … to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives”.

Ms Cheyne said the will of the people of the ACT and the NT are being denied because they are residents of a territory.

“By prohibiting the citizens of the ACT and the NT from deciding for themselves, through their elected representatives, whether to legislate in the area of voluntary assisted dying, the Federal Government may be limiting this human right,” she said.

“Regardless of one’s views on voluntary assisted dying, there should not be any controversy in allowing the ACT and NT to decide for themselves whether to introduce such legislation and to allow citizens an equal opportunity to legislate on this matter if their communities desire.

“We are asking that the Federal Government finally show leadership on this issue and restore our territory rights.”

ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs says the current restriction to legislate in the area of euthanasia is inappropriate. Photo: ACT HRC.

Minister Cheyne’s letter has received the support of the ACT Human Rights Commission, with Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs telling Region Media that “it is entirely inappropriate for the Commonwealth Parliament to determine a policy setting that is only relevant to the people in the ACT”.

“The legislative impediment imposed by the Commonwealth on the ACT is a significant limitation on the human rights of citizens in the ACT. In my view, there is a serious question whether the Commonwealth’s Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 is compatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

“It should be for the ACT legislature to decide whether we should have voluntary assisted dying laws.”

The Canberra Liberals also support the right for the Territory to legislate on the issue but are treating the issue of euthanasia as a matter of conscience.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said she has written to the Prime Minister asking for the Territory to be given the right to legislate on the issue.

“I have long advocated for the Commonwealth to repeal the [Euthanasia Laws Act] and the Canberra Liberals support the ACT having the same rights as other jurisdictions to debate and legislate on this issue,” she said.

“The ACT Legislative Assembly is democratically elected by the people of Canberra and should have the right to legislate on this matter on behalf of Canberrans, just as we have the right to legislate on a whole host of other matters dealt with by state and local governments across Australia.”

Some ACT residents have tried to access Switzerland’s euthanasia regime because of the ban in the ACT and the stringent legislation in other Australian jurisdictions that does not allow non-residents of the state to access euthanasia services.

In a pandemic, this has caused stress among individuals considering the decision to end their life overseas but who would not be able to do so with the support of family and friends due to travel restrictions and complications returning to Australia.


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22 Responses to Commonwealth limiting human rights in ACT over euthanasia position: Minister
Karen Feng Karen Feng 3:17 pm 08 Mar 21

yes. current method seems to allow people to suffer till they die. My dad had cancer and he wanted to be euthanized. I was gonna find a country where it was legal to get it done.

He wasnt going to get better. he was in and out of hospital.

chemo was painful.

cancer spread to his brain.

and he struggle to sleep and occasionally vomits blood during the last month of his life.

Cheryl Thuillier Cheryl Thuillier 7:13 pm 06 Mar 21

Legalise euthanasia, for peole with terminal diseases.

Carole Ford Carole Ford 10:29 am 06 Mar 21

How dare the feds control how the voting public in the Territories vote. It's the worst kind of BS that I've heard in my 62 years. Discrimination is one word for it, unfair, unjust and the total DISMISSAL of hundreds of thousands of VOTERS, IS another. 😡

Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 8:20 am 06 Mar 21

No thanks

Jessamine Bernadette Elena Perlibachas Jessamine Bernadette Elena Perlibachas 6:48 am 06 Mar 21

Unnecessary suicides occur every day because of this system failure.

Forcing suicide as the closest thing to a choice prevents proper protocol to enable organ donation in those who wished to be organ donors.

There is guilt attached to that which exists purely because people are not given a safe, pain free option.

So beyond the likely literal unnecessary pain, and added guilt people endure while suicide is their only option, failing to allow death with dignity also takes the lives those wanting to live but desperately waiting for transplants.

Those who wish to end their suffering could have given others years if not decades of returned quality of life, but instead they are forced into further undignified ends, traumatising family & loved ones, & robbing them of their selfless intentions to better the lives of others when they pass. Something many with chronic degenerative conditions feel very strongly about.

There is no sense in it. Our bodies, our choices. It can't be that complex.

If in any doubt the statistics could be pulled, to see how many ended their lives with terminal illness or chronic condition severely impeding on quality of life, who wished to be organ donors but died by way of suicide because of red tape preventing their preferred choice of euthanasia & therefore organ donation.

Although the numbers would be rough no doubt, if we could even loosely identify every possible amount of organs that could have been donated from respective individuals it would highlight a massive extended failure on the governments behalf, & all the senseless suffering that stems from it.

If anyone within government is surprised that people know about, & seek out Dignatas, they live awfully charmed, deeply naive lives.

Jim Jim Jim Jim 10:43 pm 05 Mar 21

There’s a very very inconvenient truth for all the anti euthanasia advocates...

Clair Holland House, and I’m sure other hospices/hospitals in the ACT and around Australia, already perform a worse kind of euthanasia. It’s called ‘nil orally, nil fluids’. It’s where the terminally ill person in their last days is placed essentially into a drug induced coma and starved/dehydrated to death.

    Alex VJ Alex VJ 5:22 am 06 Mar 21

    Jim Jim exactly! I watched my dad die in this cruel inhumane manner just 5 weeks ago 😪 His name was Jim too.

    Jessamine Bernadette Elena Perlibachas Jessamine Bernadette Elena Perlibachas 6:21 am 06 Mar 21

    Yep. In the words of an ACT geriatric specialist "in the modern age the worst possible death for an aged or critically I'll person is brought on by starvation or dehydration, it is cruel & undignified".

    Candace Driscoll Candace Driscoll 7:29 pm 06 Mar 21

    It is so disgusting. The nurse called it the 'process' when my grandmother was dying. It is torture and you wouldn't do it to your pet.

Nicole McGuire Nicole McGuire 8:20 pm 05 Mar 21

This is very dangerous. I would not put my trust in the ACT health system to this extent. Struggle to get basic health services as it is. Life is cheap to this government.

Martin Budden Martin Budden 7:33 pm 05 Mar 21

The federal government forced self-government upon us yet still won't let us self-govern.

Phil Andrews Phil Andrews 7:26 pm 05 Mar 21

I would never trust the ACT Government (of any persuasion) with such an important issue. They can’t sort education, health, buses and the place looks unkept, let alone their dodgy planning system. The Cth Government should legislate for all Australians on this matter so we all have equal access, should we so chose.

Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 7:11 pm 05 Mar 21

It’s a long due human rights to allow for a dignified way to give a choice to any individual to end their suffering in a painless manner...

Ailsa Turrell Ailsa Turrell 7:07 pm 05 Mar 21

It is time this law was removed - we should be treated as equal to other Australians.

Andrew Connelly Andrew Connelly 6:10 pm 05 Mar 21

What is she going on about that is just hyperboil nonsense..

Make the case how and why would the Federal Gov scrap change etc the Australian Wide law.

Just having a whinge and demanding is not good enough

Let alone we as a Country we don't answer to some UN body that alone should be enough.

Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 6:05 pm 05 Mar 21

A massive issue is the inability of a ACT Labor government, in power for 20 years, to do anything about the Issue of Territory Rights. Whinging and blaming the Federal government is a distraction from their own inability to do anything. People should be asking Barr and his mob what they intend to do with it other than writing a letter. Go on...do something!

    Eric Kuhlmann Eric Kuhlmann 6:30 pm 05 Mar 21

    Andrew Turnbull oh dear. Doesn't understand federal system but still passes judgment. Embarrassing really

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 6:34 pm 05 Mar 21

    Actually I do more than you know. And curiouos as to your views on what the ACT government has done all this time about asserting Territory rights

Noelene Lafferty Noelene Lafferty 5:17 pm 05 Mar 21

Excuse me, a bit better wording needed? “…considering the decision to end their life overseas …. and complications returning to Australia.” Not much of a worry IMHO.

chewy14 chewy14 3:09 pm 05 Mar 21

Yeah these claims about human rights are ridiculous.

Whilst I support voluntary euthanasia, our elected government does not.

“The letter refers to Australia’s obligation under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which ensures that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity … to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives”.”

Which is exactly what we have through the election of federal representatives. Otherwise, individual council or other smaller elected bodies could say the exact same thing that the ACT Government is claiming.

You can lobby for the Federal Government to change the law but the reasoning used here is specious.

keek keek 1:10 pm 05 Mar 21

And the ACT government are limiting human rights by demanding to track everywhere we go, with threat of fines for not doing so.

You can’t be in favour of some human rights while playing Stasi. Looks somewhat hypocritical and hollow.

Acton Acton 12:36 pm 05 Mar 21

I agree with our need for easy access to voluntary euthanasia as decided by the individual and not vetoed by anti-choice religious groups or the medical/drug industry, which has a financial incentive to keep people alive for as long as there are new expensive drugs available to test. How many Victorians have been able to access euthanasia after Victoria passed their euthanasia laws? Probably a lot fewer than have applied. The danger is that lawyers/lawmakers/lobbyists/anti-choice groups make the laws so rigid, so inaccessible and so ineffectual as to defeat the original purpose, but retain the imagery of action. Another person’s religious beliefs must not be allowed to interfere with my choice, whether it be abortion or self-termination.

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