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ACT passes nation’s most extreme euthanasia laws

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ACT euthanasia law - The catholic Weekly
The ACT Parliament legalised its voluntary assisted dying regime on 5 June. Photo: Social Estate.

The Australian Capital Territory has passed the nation’s most extreme voluntary assisted dying laws, after last-minute attempts by Liberal MPs to pass amendments were defeated, including one in support of conscientious objection and another seeking to prevent expansion of access to children after three years. 

The Legislative Assembly passed the bill on 5 June and the law will come into effect on 3 November 2025.  

Still to be discussed is a proposed amendment by Labor backbencher Marisa Paterson to allow patients to pre-appoint a Power of Attorney to access the scheme, which would mean patients with dementia or who otherwise lack decision-making capacity may die by euthanasia. 

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Due to its late addition, the amendment was not included in the final bill, but a Notice of Motion to support the amendment was set for 6 June. 

The ACT law allows a person aged over 18 with a condition that is “advanced, progressive and expected to cause the person’s death” who has approval from two health practitioners to access voluntary assisted dying. 

Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse said the legislation is based on “mistaken compassion” and called for better and more widely available palliative care, particularity for rural areas. 

“Genuine palliative care is the best and most compassionate response to the dying. It is to be uppermost in our considerations,” the archbishop said in a statement.  

“It is to be better resourced and widely available, especially for those in rural areas.” 

Archbishop Prowse called the proposed extension to the bill a “most troubling development.” 

“It crosses the line of legislation aimed at the terminally ill and is unambiguously aimed, as a form of state-sanctioned suicide, at those who are not terminally ill,” he said. 

ACT euthanasia law - The Catholic weekly

Branka van der Linden, director of HOPE, an anti-euthanasia and assisted suicide advocacy group, said it was “a very sad day” for residents of the ACT and all Australians.  

“We knew the ACT Legislative Assembly would pass these laws and we knew they would be the most extreme in the country and so it is not a surprising result, but it is nonetheless devastating,” she said.  

“I am confident that we will one day realise the awful and fatal mistake made in the ACT today and that a future parliament will correct it. Hopefully, it will be before too many vulnerable lives are taken.” 

Chief Minister Andrew Barr celebrated the passing of the legislation as “a victory for democratic rights and human rights, and the result of a campaign more than a decade in the making.” 

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the Government will ensure that voluntary assisted dying is implemented “safely and effectively” in the ACT. 

“We will continue to work closely with healthcare providers, community organisations and the public to ensure this new law provides a compassionate and dignified end-of-life option for those who choose it,” she said. 

Liberal MPs Leanne Castley, Elizabeth Lee and Ed Cocks moved amendments to the bill which were unsuccessful, including an amendment from Lee to make changes to the review of the legislation, which is scheduled for three years after the scheme begins. 

Under the legislation, the review will consider whether a person should be able to access the scheme if they have lived in the ACT for less than 12 months, is a child with “decision-making capacity” or should access voluntary assisted dying through advanced care planning. 

Lee said the review should be “genuine and objective” and not pre-empt extending access to minors or people who have lost their decision-making capacity. 

“I have serious concerns about passing the bill … as is currently drafted,” she told the chamber. 

“This Assembly would be prescribing what an impartial review should be considering, and this should seen as pre-empting the outcome of any review. 

“I do not think the Assembly should support a clause in this Act that will be potentially be used by this government to alter the eligibility criteria significantly and allow children to access this scheme.” 

Cocks attempted to remove a requirement for health providers with a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying and euthanasia to refer a patient to a provider. 

His amendment was also unsuccessful. 

Castley was unsuccessful in her amendment to remove heavy penalties of up to $3200 for individuals and $16,200 for corporations that fail to meet the scheme’s strict reporting deadlines, The Canberra Times reported. 

Health workers have four working days to lodge reports at various stages of the process. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has argued in an inquiry submission on the bill that the requirement and penalties did not take staffing shortages into account. 

The laws come one year after the ACT Government’s forced acquisition of Calvary Hospital, which was preceded by a government report criticising the hospital’s “overriding religious ethos.” 

Every Australian state has passed voluntary assisted dying laws, with New South Wales the most recent to do so in 2022. 

In 2022 the Federal Government also overturned laws preventing the territories from legalising euthanasia and assisted dying.  

The Northern Territory is currently considering implementing its own scheme. An expert advisory panel on the matter is due to report to the NT Government by July 2024. 

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