Australia’s legislative laboratory for euthanasia


Perth, capital of Western Australia 

The Labor-majority Parliament of the Australian state of Victoria passed assisted dying legislation in December 2017. This came into effect in June and the first patient has already died. Applications from a dozen or so Victorians have already been approved. Two other Labor states are also debating euthanasia – and it appears that their legislation will be even more permissive than Victoria’s.

According to critics of euthanasia interviewed by The Australian, this is “death creep”, the slippery slope in action.

“There is serious concern about this slippage,” the chair of the Australian Medical Association’s ethics and medico legal committee, Chris Moye, says. “A lot of this (change) was happening even before the Victorian law, which is only two months old, has actually been tested. At this point, we haven’t seen how assisted dying works in Victoria and yet the slippage is happening across these various jurisdictions. I think there are two reasons: people were always going to be looking at it (the Victorian law) and the tendency always is to relax legislation.”

Critics focus on details of a proposed bill in the parliament of Western Australia. In Victoria, doctors are not allowed to raise the topic of assisted dying. But in WA, doctors would be permitted to suggest the possibility of euthanasia and no specialist has to be involved.

Conscientious objection is more difficult as well. In Victoria, objecting doctors are not obliged to refer the person on; in WA they would be.

In Queensland, a parliamentary committee is studying draft legislation. This is even more permissive than Victoria’s or WA’s. There is no time requirement – only that the patient have an incurable terminal illness which is causing intolerable and enduring suffering.

However, Professor Ben White, who helped write Queensland draft bill,  dismisses fears of a “slippery slope”. “When people talk about a slippery slope in terms of the law, they are talking about law X in a particular state or country that is enacted and over time gets changed,” he says. “We live in a federation … and there are differences in laws from one state to another, reflecting a range of factors, including geography. What might be appropriate for a state like Victoria might … require different solutions in Western Australia or Queensland.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge  




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