‘Euthanasia’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘a good death’. Assisted suicide advocates claim that their form of ‘a good death’ will assure a peaceful death free from suffering.
However, wherever assisted suicide or ‘voluntary euthanasia’ is legalised, it puts pressure on the elderly, terminally ill and people trapped in fear or despair to end their lives. The fear of “being a burden” consistently ranks high in requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia.
While coronavirus has slowed the pace of many things, it has not slowed the push for assisted suicide and euthanasia across Australia. Advocates for allowing these practices doggedly pursue their agenda in every state.
Most alarming is Tasmania, which in around September will consider a private member’s End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020. This extreme euthanasia law will allow assisted suicide for those who are not terminally ill, including those who are disabled, as well as those not experiencing physical or emotional suffering related to their condition, no need for a specialist doctor and a turnaround of four days. Thankfully, calls for the bill to extend to children under the age of 18 were rejected. Regrettably, without even seeing the bill, Tasmanian Labor has pledged to back it.
Western Australia legalised euthanasia last year and the laws are set to come into effect in June 2021. The operation of WA’s scheme is currently in the hands of their Health Department’s ‘Implementation Team’. More lax than the Victorian euthanasia law, the WA bill has fewer conditions on doctor qualifications and patient eligibility. Shockingly, an amendment which sought to ensure people living in remote areas had the same level of access to palliative care as they will have to euthanasia was rejected. From next year, terminally ill people living in remote WA may feel that taking their lives is their only state-supported response to their suffering.
South Australia is waiting for a report from the new Parliamentary Joint Committee on End of Life Choices, established last year. Put on hold due to social distancing restrictions, the committee is now expected to report in July-August. To date, South Australia seems to be particularly inoculated against euthanasia, having defeated assisted suicide bills 15 times.
In New South Wales, the ‘progressive’ elements within the parliament are still feeling bruised after a painful abortion bill campaign last year, during which the Premier made a commitment that she would not bring forward any more conscience votes before the 2023 election.
The Queensland government deferred the debate on any euthanasia bill until after their 31 October state election. The Premier has tasked the Queensland Law Reform Commission to present a report to the next Attorney-General on 1 March 2021.
The territories, guided by federal law, still do not have the authority to legalise euthanasia. The Northern Territory’s 2018 attempt to win back the right to legislate on matters like euthanasia was voted down.
Assisted suicide became legal in Victoria on 19 June 2019. In the first six months, 50 Victorians ended their lives in this way. This number more than quadrupled the modest estimate of 12 Victorians annually (safe, legal and rare?) promised by euthanasia advocates before assisted suicide was legalised in 2018. This number is expected to rise further as people fear dying lonely deaths due to social distancing protocols. Tragically, the law will only be reviewed on its 5th anniversary, not after the current surge in demand.
During the last week of May, Australia celebrated National Palliative Care Week. A KPMG report found that an investment of only $350 million in palliative care would save more than $450 million in the wider health care system. By comparison, and in the name of keeping the most vulnerable safe, the federal government committed to various economic stimulus measures during lockdown totalling $180 billion.
Why is it, that when vulnerable people need fair and equitable funding for palliative care, the resources are denied?