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Voluntary assisted suicide in the ACT – which model is best for us?

Matt Donnelly 17 May 2018 7

The ACT should come up with its own model for voluntary assisted dying.

Last week, after recent failed attempts at suicide, 104-year-old respected academic David Goodall travelled to Switzerland to obtain assistance in ending his life. The ABC reported that he resented the fact that he’d been left with no choice but to travel overseas in order to legally do so.

Australian adults like Dr Goodall should have the right to end their lives painlessly, at a time of their choosing and be legally able to obtain information and assistance in order to die with dignity. However, in the ACT, this right is hampered by federal law prohibiting the Territories from legislating to allow adults to make such choices.

Presently, two draft pieces of legislation are intended for introduction in the Federal Parliament – Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm’s private Member’s bill “Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation)” and Greens Senator Richard Di Natale and former Labor Senator Katy Gallagher’s “Restoring Territory Rights (Dying with Dignity) Bill 2016”. While it now isn’t clear what will happen to the Di Natale/Gallagher bill, these bills prescribe the same substantive repeal of the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (the Andrews Bill) to allow the Territory to pass laws regarding euthanasia.

Earlier this year, the ACT Legislative Assembly called for submissions to the Select Committee on End of Life Choices in the ACT, requesting thoughts on the applicability of voluntary assisted suicide schemes operating outside the ACT. The ACT Liberal Democrats provided a detailed submission, which can be found here.

Victoria has recently legislated for voluntary assisted dying. While Victoria’s scheme is a step forward for Australia, I do not believe it is an appropriate model for Canberra. It is bureaucratic and cumbersome – its timeframes are likely to prolong suffering. There is also a risk of many people dying from their condition before they can die under the freedom Victoria proposes to vest. Moreover, it will only allow residents of Victoria to participate.

By not covering the range of immense suffering possible across the human experience, the scope of the Victorian model is too narrow. By vesting power in the State to determine what must be endured and what is possible to endure, it is unnecessarily paternalistic. Such a narrow approach is not centred on the needs of the patient.

The model used in Switzerland provides the benchmark for any voluntary assisted dying scheme as it is a patient-centred approach based on self-determination. Its system of reporting and investigation of all suicides limits the scope for abuse and enables strong enforcement if necessary. Provided that the person assisting another to die is not motivated by selfish motives, an offence has not been committed. This means that assistance can be provided by friends and relatives. With no requirement that doctors be involved, the vast majority of assisted suicides are not directly supervised by doctors and assistance is often provided by voluntary organisations such as Exit.

The ACT, as a progressive, mature and sophisticated jurisdiction, has the willingness and capacity to develop the most appropriate voluntary assisted dying system in Australia and should be free to do so.

I invite Rioters to offer their thoughts and suggestions on what model would best suit Canberra, and why.

Matt Donnelly was a Liberal Democrats candidate for the Senate in the 2016 federal election, and ran in Brindabella in the 2016 ACT election.


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7 Responses to Voluntary assisted suicide in the ACT – which model is best for us?
Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 4:50 pm 19 May 18

While the Hospice does much good work, as a Catholic organisation they are unwilling and unable to provide voluntary assisted dying. Canberra needs a non-Catholic hospice.

Maya123 Maya123 8:33 am 19 May 18

Anne Booms, fine, but there should also be assisted dying for those that want it. I knew someone in palliative care – I’m sure he was getting good care – but he had had enough and wanted to die. It should have been his choice. If catholics want to suffer for their religion (and it is I would guess mostly catholics who object to assisted dying), fine, but for those with other beliefs and no beliefs it should be their choice. However, in this case because of the law he couldn’t be helped. In the end he refused to eat. Not the considerate way it should be.

scouserdog scouserdog 2:13 am 19 May 18

The Swiss model seems sensible to me

Jessica Brisbane Jessica Brisbane 7:37 am 18 May 18

A pretty pointless discussion, because the Feds will just overrule us again.

    Scott Welsh Scott Welsh 7:54 am 18 May 18

    I understand your sentiments, but people said he same thing about same sex marriage.

    Jessica Brisbane Jessica Brisbane 8:34 am 18 May 18

    Scott Welsh They did override same sex marriage.

    Matt Donnelly Matt Donnelly 10:33 pm 18 May 18

    Jessica, would you feel just as sceptical under a federal Labor govt? Do you think a second Andrews Bill limiting Territory powers would be just as likely?

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