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.