Voluntary euthanasia (VE) and assisted suicide (AS) are important yet ethically challenging issues in contemporary Australian society.
The issue of how we, as a society, regulate VE and AS arises in a particular social, demographic and medical context. For example, Australia has an ageing population and the baby boomer generation is now (and will increasingly be) involved in medical decisions as they come to the end of their lives. This generation will not be passive recipients of paternalistic medical practices, and will insist on greater input in and control over their dying process. At the same time, VE and AS are issues that are of significant interest to the public and are issues about which there is majority public support for reform.
Further, this debate occurs in the context of ongoing advances in medicine. Lives can be sustained in circumstances that have never previously been contemplated, and decisions need to be made about whether to give life-sustaining medical treatment, or allow the individual to die. There have also been significant improvements in palliative care which have enabled pain in dying patients to be managed to the extent that has not been possible in the past.
After consideration of a large body of research, evidence of international developments and the conclusions reached at a high-level roundtable, Australia21 believes that VE and AS should no longer attract criminal sanctions and recommends that:
a) State governments should develop legislation now to permit and regulate voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide in defined and limited circumstances;
b) The Federal Parliament should restore powers that were withdrawn from the Territories so these parliaments may do the same; and
c) Until the above happens, each Member of Parliament should consider exercising his or her right to introduce a private member’s bill on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Willmott, L & White, B 2012, How should Australia regulate voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide? Australia21 & QUT Health Law Research Centre, Canberra.
Douglas, R, Willmott, L & White, B 2013, The right to choose an assisted death: Time for legislation? Australia21 & QUT Health Law Research Centre, Canberra.