Will our restrictive euthanasia law be revisited now the New South Wales parliament is introducing bipartisan legislation in August 2017?
In 1997 an independent MLA Michael Moore put forward the Medical Treatment Amendment Bill to the ACT Legislative Assembly to provide a form of euthanasia for Canberra. This bill was never debated because Kevin Andrews, a prominent Catholic Federal parliamentarian, countered with legislation which removed the right of the ACT and the Northern Territory to decide such law. This restriction still is in force.
In the 20 years since these developments community attitudes, perhaps because of heart-rending public stories of unnecessary extreme pain and suffering, have softened views and over 80 percent of people now favour a more compassionate and liberal approach to what often is called death with dignity.
While sympathetic to these opinions and supportive of repeal of the Andrew’s restrictions in the Territories I’m reluctant to see the ACT move to implement a euthanasia law, believing that it should be Australia-wide, decided by plebiscite or referendum. The ACT government in 2016 called for euthanasia laws to be returned for decision to our legislature but stopped short of introducing legislation.
The danger of Canberra becoming the death capital of Australia by the enthusiasm of local ‘progressives’ if legislation was brought forward has dramatically changed by the actions of the cross-party MP’s in the New South Wales parliament. Now we risk being isolated and, in a farcical situation, seeing our dying with dignity patients move to Queanbeyan to fulfil the residential requirements of the NSW law.
A plus for the NSW proposals, apart from the bipartisan approach, is that they are sensible and appear to have overcome some problems of past attempts. These include the person to have less than 12 months to live, be over 25 years of age, be assessed by three medical professionals, have a 48 hour cooling off period over the decision and self-administer the lethal dose. They have a chance of success.
Naturally, opposition can be expected from religious groups who have a fundamental objection to the right of a person to die in their own time if circumstances demand.
However a principal argument against euthanasia that unscrupulous relatives will kill off granny is overcome by the three doctors and the twelve months to live provisions, so one is left with a moral objection which is a personal belief and should not, for once, influence majority sentiments.
Perhaps too there will be less backroom pressure from the Commonwealth to this move in a major State, especially with its own issue of LGBTIQ.
Nevertheless one can expect arm-twisting to be applied to politicians though hopefully the consensus of the overwhelming majority of the public and a conscience vote should see the matter successfully resolved.
It is understood other States are considering euthanasia laws. They and the ACT would be well advised to adopt the NSW legislation in the interests of compassion and common sense so uniform laws could be established across the continent.
What do you think of Euthanasia legislation being introduced in the ACT to mirror that of the pending laws in NSW?