Human rights and euthanasia
Copyright © Commonwealth of Australia 1997. Copying is permissible provided acknowledgement is made to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Sydney, December 1996.
George Zdenkowski, Associate Professor of Law, and Director of the Human Rights Centre of the University of New South Wales. An Occasional Paper of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, December 1996
Some preliminary issues
The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT)
Proposed federal legislation: Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996
The ICCPR and Australian law
Potential enforcement options under the ICCPR in relation to the ROTTIA 7.
Potential violations of the ICCPR by the ROTTIA
Relevant statutory ambiguity in the ROTTIA?
Potential for adverse view by the Human Rights Committee?
Appendix: The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act - explanatory notes References
Cases referred to
Issues relating to the practice of euthanasia have assumed prominence in Australia as a result of a number of recent developments:
The passage of the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT) (hereafter referred to as ROTTIA) which came into effect on 1 July 1996.
A challenge to that legislation in the Northern Territory Supreme Court which resulted in a decision (by a majority of two to one) to uphold the law.1
An application for special leave to appeal against this decision to the High Court of Australia which is likely to be heard early in 1997.
The introduction of legislation in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly to attempt to repeal the ROTTIA.2
The introduction by Kevin Andrews, MHR of a private member’s Bill (the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996)3 into the federal parliament to override the ROTTIA.4
The proposal by Independent ACT MLA, Mr Michael Moore, to reintroduce his voluntary euthanasia law in the ACT early in 1997.5
A proposal to hold a referendum in relation to euthanasia in NSW;6 and an extensive open debate on euthanasia in the NSW Legislative Assembly on 16 October 1996.7 The debate about ROTTIA is no longer academic. On 22 September 1996, the first death authorised by this law took place.8 This has
contributed to further passionate debate about the legitimacy of the ROTTIA and the legislative attempt to override it.9
The ROTTIA, and attempts to introduce similar legislation, or legislation which would override it, raise ethical, moral, religious, philosophical, legal, constitutional and human rights issues. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has powers and duties under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986 (Cth) to advise on the human rights implications of such laws10 and is likely to be called upon to, inter alia,
(a) intervene in the special leave application to the High Court of Australia; (b) make submissions to any inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs in the event that the proposed federal legislation is referred to that Committee; (c) report to the Attorney-General.
In the circumstances, HREOC has requested a report into the application of international human rights law to euthanasia and, in particular, the implications arising under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Although the scope of the right to life under customary international law is arguably different from that under Art 6 ICCPR, this report does not investigate this issue. Although passing reference is made to other ICCPR provisions, the focus is, as requested, on Art 6 ICCPR. This report will consider preliminary issues (including the resurgence of the euthanasia debate, terminology, the current law); the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT); proposed federal legislation; the ICCPR and Australian law; potential enforcement options under the ICCPR in relation to the...
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