Editorial: Assisted dying bill would show maturity and compassion

THE vexed question of whether or not to introduce euthanasia has been a perennial debate in Australia.

For years compelling arguments on both sides have been tossed to and fro, but the push to have assisted dying legalised is now gathering real momentum.

In 1995, the Northern Territory passed legislation to allow euthanasia before the federal parliament intervened and overrode what had been a world-first law.

Now there is a concerted effort in Victoria to have right-to-die laws, with parliament expected to debate a bill in the spring.

And with Canberra not being able to constitutionally quash the states like it can the territories, only the conscience votes of our elected representatives may lie between those bills being enacted. That does not mean there won’t be plenty of debate though. Religious groups have again indicated their staunch opposition and that dynamic is likely to underscore much of the argument.

But even if you broadly support a person’s right to die under certain circumstances, there are many details that must be thrashed out before this should become law.

One of the safeguards proposed by the Andrews government's Ministerial Advisory Panel is that a person would have to make three separate requests to end their life, firstly to a medical practitioner and then be subject to two eligibility assessments.

Another is that 10 days must pass between a person’s first and third requests, which the panel deems an appropriate amount of time to strike the right balance between ensuring the decision is “well-considered”, but not too long that it prolongs suffering.

If a request to die is approved, it is proposed that the lethal drugs will be supplied by a pharmacist in a locked box to be self-administered. Only in instances in which a person is incapable of taking the drugs themselves would a medical practitioner assist, and they may not be administered by friends or family members. 

And just who is eligible to end their own life?

The panel’s recommendation is that the person must be over 18 and have a disease or condition expected to cause death within 12 months, and that their suffering cannot be relived.

There is still much work to be done to package these recommendations into a bill, but its seemingly inevitable passing would demonstrate maturity and compassion.