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New parliament must prioritise restoring right for territories to legislate on assisted dying, says RSA

Si Gladman / 12 May 2022

The new federal parliament must prioritise restoring the right of the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory to introduce voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws within their jurisdictions, says the Rationalist Society of Australia.

With New South Wales set to become the last state to legalise VAD – legislation could pass the state parliament as soon as next week – the citizens of the territories will be the only Australians without access to the end-of-life option.

Regardless of which party formed government, the next federal parliament should repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 before the end of the year, said RSA president Dr Meredith Doig.

Under the Howard government, conservative Catholic Kevin Andrews introduced legislation which became the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 in order to block the territories from legislating for VAD.

In both territories, there is overwhelming public support for VAD.

“The new parliament should, as a priority, introduce a new bill, debate it and then pass it by the end of the year,” said Dr Doig.

“It is simply unacceptable for terminally ill citizens in the ACT and Northern Territory to have to suffer needlessly while someone in a similar condition in any other part of the country can choose the option of voluntary assisted dying,” said Dr Doig.

“At this federal election, we urge all parties and candidates to make clear whether they will support this much-needed reform.”

The RSA will step up its campaigning and lobbying on this issue once a new government is formed and new members and senators take their place in the parliament. 

The next parliament must also address a problem in federal law that makes it a crime to use a ‘carriage service’, such as via phone or the internet, to provide information about suicide.

Despite the fact that VAD is not suicide, the federal government has taken a hard line, refusing to clarify that the law does not apply in cases of doctors supporting their patients wishing to access VAD. It thus poses legal risks for doctors and particularly disadvantages people living in rural or remote areas, where VAD-trained doctors are less available for face-to-face consultations. 

Last year, the Morrison government rejected demands from both territory governments for the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 to be repealed. Federal Labor has pledged to facilitate a vote on territory rights in its first term.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.