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ACT Human Rights Commission pushes dying laws for youth and those who can’t consent

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The ACT Human Rights Commission is advocating for mechanisms under the territory’s proposed dying laws that would allow doctors to administer euthanasia to people who have lost the ability to give their consent. Photo: Unsplash/Steven HWG

The Australian Capital Territory Human Rights Commission is pushing hard for children, teenagers and people who lack capacity to give consent at the time of death to be allowed to access the territory’s planned voluntary assisted dying laws.

The ACT Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Penelope Mathew, Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner, Jodie Griffiths-Cook and the Discrimination, Disability, Health and Community Services Commissioner, Karen Toohey reiterated their earlier recommendations in a 14 December submission to the parliamentary committee examining the bill that was introduced last October.

They argued that the rights of people aged under 18 includes access to health care “without discrimination”, including the right “to voluntarily end their life with dignity in the same circumstances as adults.”

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The commissioners recommended introducing mechanisms to make access easier, suggesting advanced care directives aimed at preventing cases in which a person wants to end their life but later loses the ability to give medical consent for the procedure due to a loss of capacity or an inability to communicate.

Such cases would presumably include circumstances such as dementia or lack of consciousness, and the submission acknowledged that enabling VAD through advance care directives or their equivalent “involves fraught ethical issues regarding administering VAD to individuals who cannot consent at the time of administration.”

They also recommended using a model of oversight that occurs “at the conclusion of the process” rather than checks along the way, in order to make access to assisted dying easier.

None of the conditions apply to current VAD laws in Australia and if made law would make the assisted dying scheme easily the country’s most extreme.

The commission has also argued that eligibility should not be linked to a diagnosis of terminal illness or a specific timeline of expected natural death.

Last June the ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne said she was considering lowering the minimum age to 14 based on community feedback but later said the government would decline that proposal and revisit it in a review of the legislation after three years.

“It’s sad but unsurprising that the ACT Human Rights Commission is recommending euthanasia for teenagers and for those who have lost the capacity to consent,” Director of the anti-euthanasia group HOPE Branka van der Linden said in a statement to The Catholic Weekly.

“While other jurisdictions have at least offered the veneer of ‘conservative’ legislation before proposing the removal of safeguards, the Human Rights Commission is showing its hand from the start: death on demand for teens, for those without terminal illness and even for those who can no longer consent, that is, the most radical legislation in the country.”

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