Ongoing Debate About Voluntary Euthanasia
The right of people to elect to die has been hotly debated for decades and multiple law reforms have occurred in that time. It is a moral question that most people prefer not to discuss.
But is deciding when to die something that people should be able to do?
This topic has been the subject of legislation that has been proposed, enacted and repealed across states and territories since The Rights of the Terminally ill Act was introduced and enacted in the Northern Territory in 1995.
In 1996, Bob Dent of the Northern Territory became the first person in the world to receive legal voluntary euthanasia. In 1997, Janet Mills from South Australia was the second person to die under the Northern Territory law.
Soon after her death the law was overturned by the Euthenasia Laws Act 1997. This legislation is still in force. Four people were granted the right to die under the Northern Territory law. Interestingly, two of those people were not Northern Territory residents.
This year, on 2 May, Greens MP Kate Faehrmann introduced a bill into the New South Wales Parliament which is known as the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill. This was put up as a Private Member’s Bill and was heavily debated in Parliament, with a division in the House as to whether there should be a legislative framework in NSW to allow terminally ill people to legally request assistance from a suitably qualified medical practitioner to administer a substance that could end their own life. The Bill was not read a second time.
This most recent proposed Bill included strict requirements for a medical practitioner to be satisfied with in order to assist a terminally ill patient in the ending of their life.
It is something that our politicians clearly have very mixed views of, and while the Bill was unsuccessful the division appears to be getting smaller.
This is an area of law that goes to the heart of an individual's liberty but also raises questions about issues that have been beyond our control.
There are now assisted dying organisations spreading across Europe. In Switzerland, for example, it is legal for organisations such as Dignitas to provide individuals with assisted suicide options as well as euthanasia for individuals who are terminally ill. Of the people who seek assistance from Dignitas, 21 percent do not have a terminal or incurable illness and are given the “green light” based on a "weariness with life".
This is an area which Australian law has not yet visited. Is it possible that such radical law reform could be around the corner?