Euthanasia update

It’s already June of 2017 and euthanasia advocates are as sure as they have ever been that this is the year that euthanasia will become legalised in Australia. The campaign flags are waving and the personalities are at the ready, speaking on the radio, writing in the papers and stacking the panel on Q&A. The polls are showing that the public supports it, ‘Come on Australia, catch up to the rest of the world’, they cry, ‘It’s high time that the doctors and the law makers got on board’.

So for those of you who don’t follow these things, euthanasia season began in South Australia back in February last year when Labor MP Steph Key tabled the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016. The usual process of submissions and conversations between MPs and their constituents followed, and parliamentary debate on the Bill was well underway when Liberal Duncan McFetridge cleverly introduced a reformed version of the Bill, the Death with Dignity Bill 2016 on October 20. The new Bill promised to settle the many criticisms of the first, which implied that there was no need for further submissions. However those who could sense a swifty was being pulled took pains to respond again. That second Bill was tabled for less than a month before going to a vote. On November 16, celebrity campaigners flew in bright and early to hang out with the regular folk on the steps of SA’s parliament house, unaware of the epic sitting before them. Debate pushed through the night and around 4am the following morning a vote finally took place. The Bill was defeated after the speaker voted against the Bill to split the 23-23 tie. Speaker Michael Atkinson stated that the process was ‘a textbook example of bad legislative practice’. That was the fourteenth euthanasia bill defeated in SA.

The very day the second SA bill was tabled, three WA MPs (Labour, Liberal and Greens) announced the beginning of their campaign for end-of-life legislation. WA hasn’t seen a euthanasia bill since 2010 and that one didn’t make it to a second reading. It was announced by Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan late 2016 that we can expect to see a bill in the second half of 2017. It seems that WA is listening in on Victoria’s huddle so we could expect the two states to run their campaigns concurrently.

Down to Tasmania and recently, on May 24th, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016 tabled by Labor MP and former Premier Lara Giddings and Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor was voted on and defeated – 16 votes to 8. The magnitude of this defeat may have come as a surprise to Giddings who also co-sponsored a Bill in 2013 that was narrowly defeated by one vote. Tasmania has now seen three euthanasia bills in less than a decade.

Mid-May we heard reports that a NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has been drafted by a cross-party working group but has yet to be officially tabled. It promises to be cautious, which means for over 25-year-olds who are expected to die within 12 months and who are suffering extreme pain or disability. The legislation grants close relatives the ability to challenge the patient’s eligibility in court. We can expect its introduction around August.

Moving south to Victoria we await the mother of all euthanasia bills. News comes in as we go to print that we may expect to see a bill introduced in the first parliamentary sitting of August and it could be moved to a quick vote within two weeks. A parliamentary committee spent ten months working on an Inquiry into End of Life Choices and presented some 49 recommendations to parliament in its June 2016 report. If you didn’t pick it up from the title, this project was all about choice, and when choice is your central goal we all know that more is more. So it is no surprise that the Inquiry recommends that the assisted dying should be one of those choices. I admit I have not closely read the whole 350 page report but, I gained little confidence when I stopped upon the subheading ‘God’ (page 309) to find that God is in favour of legalising assisted suicide. Lord have mercy! Punters believe that the Victorian parliament has the numbers to vote in favour of assisted suicide legalisation so it will be interesting to see how well the legislation is crafted and the time they allow for submissions and parliamentary debate.

In other parts, there is scant evidence that Queensland is looking at the euthanasia question this year. In 2013 a Queensland parliamentary inquiry looked into palliative and community care but, unlike Victoria, the examination of euthanasia was not part of the agenda.

Our final stop is in Canberra, where there has been media speculation that someone may have a go at turning over the Federal Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996. This was the bill that overturned NT’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, under which four people had their lives ended with the assistance of the (now) deregistered doctor Phillip Nitschke before the law was nullifed. I don’t put much stock in media speculation these days. Politicians revel in announcing their own plans so we’ll wait to hear notes on that one from the horse’s mouth.