Do powerful Euthanasia laws in Australia affect quality of life?

While the discussion surrounding assisted dying has been heavily debated, euthanasia laws in Australia are set to take effect in 2019. In November 2017, the state of Victoria became the first Australian state to pass the assisted dying legislation, called the Voluntary assisted dying bill. A poll taken revealed that 3 out 4 Australians supported euthanasia for the terminally ill, yet the internet is rampant with positions to the contrary.

From mid 2019, Australian law will allow those over the age of 18, with an incurable illness and life expectancy of six months or less to access a lethal drug and within 10 days of requesting it. The assisted dying drug will enable them to end their life and suffering of their own accord. However, a further stipulation states that the person must have been residing in Victoria for a minimum of 12 months. People have already vocalised their concerns about the bill and the requirement of being a resident in Victoria for a minimum of 12 months.

It’s easy to understand that a terminally ill person would not be able to travel interstate in order to fulfil that legal obligation. Some have argued that this will place an enormous strain on the state of Victoria when there is an influx of people relocating for the sole purpose of meeting the prerequisite. However, the sad reality is that people in such dire circumstances would actually be unable to manage without their existing support systems, let alone be physically able to travel.

Terminally ill person lying in hospital bed and euthanasia laws in Australia

The Euthanasia debate Australia-wide

In an interview with ABC radio, Malcolm Turnbull remarked that euthanasia was a criminal law issue and a legislative issue for the states. ABC election analyst Antony Green commented, that “it’s much harder to legislate and it’s much harder to legislate the safeguards.” What does this mean for the quality of life debate surrounding euthanasia and how does it affect Australia as a whole?

Many groups have expressed their anger towards the newly passed legislation. The controversial debate was even tweeted about by the former prime minister, Tony Abbott who called for the Victorian euthanasia law to be overturned. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the new legislation, many aspects need to be considered from a legal standpoint.

One objection that has been raised by certain groups is the way in which the law may be abused. For example, conservatives even posted a survey, citing that the AMA and Palliative Care Victoria are greatly opposed to the legislation. They were campaigning against it, saying that Victoria would be “the only jurisdiction in the world where the state directly issues suicide ‘permits’.”

Their argument relates to the potential future impact of the legislation. The law looks at precedents in order to evaluate individual cases and the fear is that this will result in far more extreme laws in the future.

NSW recently tried to legalise voluntary euthanasia but the bill to legalise assisted dying failed to pass, albeit the decision being extremely close. A vast majority of people maintain that NSW should be moving in the same direction as Victoria and pass legislation for assisted dying. However, there are still many that believe euthanasia should not be legal for a variety of reasons.

Complications surrounding the new legislation

The effectiveness of the drug that will be used is yet another complication of this new legislation, as secobarbital capsules and pentobarbital liquid (usually known by the brand name, Nembutal) are the preferred drugs used in other parts of the world. These include countries like Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and some states in the US, where euthanasia is legal. However and while Nembutal and secobarbital are used for animals in Australia, it remains illegal to use these drugs for human beings. This means that implementing the law in Victoria is more difficult. It begs the question why the drug referred to as the “peaceful pill” is illegal in Australia?

Another issue of great concern to protesters of the legislation is that due to the cost of palliative care, some may elect assisted dying as the only available option. Some argue that stricter laws need to be implemented in order to better protect the elderly and the vulnerable.

Additionally, many anti-euthanasia groups remain concerned about terminally ill people who cannot make decisions for themselves. These people are vulnerable, being left to the decisions of relatives who may not have their best interests at heart. Many are asking what initiatives will be made into law to account for such situations?

Why was the bill only passed in Victoria?

People who have watched a love one die, are questioning why other Australian states are not passing the same law and why being a resident of Victoria should even be a stipulation. The question remains why given the overwhelming support, evidenced by many polling results, that this bill isn’t being applied to the other Australian states?

One of the notable points to consider is that when Australians go to the polls and vote for a possible new legislation, they’re often unaware of the way in which a law is passed. For example, if you’re a resident of NSW, you cast your vote for your state official. The said politician may even be running with the promise of affecting change and yet commonwealth law is the one that is required to see the bill pass Australia wide, not merely in one Australian state. In NSW, the assisted dying proposal was once again defeated and although legal for a period of time in the Northern territory in 1995, it was then overturned by Federal parliament 2 years later.

Assisted dying and matters relating to your Will

In all other Australian states, voluntary euthanasia is illegal. In order to qualify, the person has to be a resident of Victoria for at least a year before applying to end their life voluntarily. This rule also applies regardless of who they have nominated to make the decision on their behalf, in their will. While a person will now be permitted to stipulate their wishes for someone to assist them when the time comes via their legally valid will, this will clearly create certain problems.

For example, imagine that a grandfather lives on the Gold Coast and the granddaughter lives in Melbourne. She wants to fulfil her grandfather’s wishes and have a clause entered into his will about assisted dying but she cannot because he lives in QLD not in Victoria. In order for her to make any adjustments to his will, he would still have to be a resident of Victoria, regardless of the fact that his nominated power of attorney (the granddaughter) is a resident of Victoria.

Achieving Australia-wide legislation is not going to be easy. However, many still feel that people should be able to make this decision for themselves provided they have the legal capacity at the time. In addition, that legislation should be passed Australia wide not merely in the state of Victoria. The issue of quality of life is a basic human right and this is the resounding argument for application of the law in the commonwealth of Australia.

SCB Legal believes that each person is entitled to quality of life and deserves basic human rights, including the right to voluntary euthanasia. If you have questions about the Voluntary assisted dying legislation that may affect you or a loved one, contact us today, so we can help you fully understand your legal rights.