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Canberra opens the floodgates

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Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn said in a statement that he was grateful to the Senators “who really did exercise a deep regard for the vulnerable, and for the imperative that life has an absolute value and is the foundation for all society.”. PHOTO: Cyron Sobrevinas
Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn said in a statement that he was grateful to the Senators “who really did exercise a deep regard for the vulnerable, and for the imperative that life has an absolute value and is the foundation for all society.”. PHOTO: Cyron Sobrevinas

The final impediment to the nationwide victory of euthanasia has been removed after the Restoring Territory Rights Bill passed the Senate on 1 November.

The Bill had already won its Second Reading vote on 24 November, 41 votes to 25, making the final stage of debate a mere formality. It had previously passed the House of Representatives in August, 99 to 37.

The Bill overturned the Howard-era Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, meaning the ACT and NT will now pass their own euthanasia laws.

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Amendments from Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price to prevent the legalisation of euthanasia for children were defeated 25 to 37.

Senator Price’s amendments would also have prevented access to euthanasia where mental illness or disability were the only factors in a person’s decision to take their own life.

“There are those that think this might be a radical reform. I can tell you now it’s not a radical reform to ensure that children don’t have access to voluntary assisted dying,” Senator Price said.

“The passage of this law means that euthanasia and assisted suicide can become law with only 13 votes.”

“This does occur in some Scandinavian countries, and in Canada a person with a mental health condition and disability can access their assisted suicide scheme even without a terminal condition.”

Opponents of Senator Price’s amendment said the bill was about restoring “legislative equality” to the Territories and further conditions on euthanasia should not be imposed from Canberra.

“Tonight is about the Northern Territory saying to the federal parliament: please, do the right thing. Let us make our own decisions. Rightly or wrongly, they are ours,” Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra and Goulburn said in a statement that he was grateful to the Senators “who really did exercise a deep regard for the vulnerable, and for the imperative that life has an absolute value and is the foundation for all society.”

“It is ironic that as we approach the Christmas season, the Australian Parliament has enabled a further erosion of the protections owed to those who are in precarious circumstances,” he said.

A photo illustration shows tools used in euthanasia. The Restoring Territory Rights Bill overturned the Howard-era Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, meaning the ACT and NT will now pass their own euthanasia laws. Photo: CNS, Norbert Fellechner, www.imago via Reuters
A photo illustration shows tools used in euthanasia. The Restoring Territory Rights Bill overturned the Howard-era Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, meaning the ACT and NT will now pass their own euthanasia laws. Photo: CNS, Norbert Fellechner, www.imago via Reuters

Branka van der Linden, Director of anti-euthanasia group HOPE, said the Bill “wasn’t about the restoration of Territory rights”.

“It was about the Senate abdicating its responsibility to protect the vulnerable,” she said.

“Each of the Territories have only one House of Parliament, with 25 members each. The passage of this law means that euthanasia and assisted suicide can become law with only 13 votes.

“With no house of review and a group no bigger than a football team needed to make these laws, we can expect extreme legislation to be passed in the Territories.”

Support for euthanasia is high in both the ACT and NT; ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said he will “move quickly”, flagging consultations at the beginning of 2023 and legislation in the second half of the year.

“… euthanasia ‘largely relies on the goodwill of medical practitioners to undertake unpaid work’.”

The NT government is yet to announce its own plans, but Chief Minister Natasha Fyles called the passage of the legislation “a win for democracy and for all Territorians”. The remaining State euthanasia regimes will also commence in 2023: Queensland on 1 January, South Australia on 31 January, and NSW on 28 November.

Advocates are already clamouring for increased funding and simplified payment structures for euthanasia providers ahead of the commencement of the remaining State programs.

An article in the medical journal of Australia by academics from the Western Australian government and the Australian Centre for Health Law Research in Queensland said euthanasia “largely relies on the goodwill of medical practitioners to undertake unpaid work”.

Lead author Casey Haining and her co-authors wrote that euthanasia must be included in the Medicare Benefits Schedule, from which it is currently excluded by the Federal Government, given widespread community support for the practice.

“Inadequate remuneration, in addition to being unfair and unethical, is likely to impact the sustainability of the already stretched VAD workforce and hence the ability of patients to access VAD in the future,” Ms Haining and her co-authors wrote.

Ms Haining and her co-authors “anticipate the new Federal Government may be more supportive of such reform”.

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