The Fight to Legalise Euthanasia in Australia

Topics: Euthanasia, Australian Capital Territory, Australia Pages: 7 (2385 words) Published: August 23, 2013
The Fight to Legalise Euthanasia in Australia

Euthanasia is defined by the Oxford Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2013) as “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.” The word euthanasia originates from the Greek words, “eu” meaning good, and “thantos” meaning death, however the topic of this type of “good death” has become highly debatable in Australia. Sometimes referred to as “assisted suicide” and “mercy killing,” euthanasia gives people their own right to die through painless suicide, however done so at their own free will, making it voluntary. Once legalised in the Northern Territory for nine months under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, euthanasia is now illegal in all states and territories in Australia. Being legal in certain countries of the world, such as Belgium, Switzerland and notably the Netherlands, Australia is yet to re-authorise euthanasia laws. With surveys conducted showing a high level of support throughout the country on this highly debatable topic, it is now time for the Federal Government of Australia and all State Parliament’s to overturn its current restrictions on voluntary euthanasia, giving the terminally ill and the terminally impaired their own right to die.

In Australia, the matter of euthanasia is a matter that is held by State Parliaments in Australia, meaning that law dealing with the legality of euthanasia varies state to state. However, unlike the states of Australia, the territories being the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory must abide by laws made by the Federal Parliament of Australia as legalisation in Australian territories is not guaranteed by the Australian constitution. Accordingly, in Australia the Federal Parliament and all State Parliaments have nullified euthanasia, making it illegal. In Queensland, it is found that if a person assists in the euthanasia of another by hastening the death of a person that has already found to be disordered or have a disease, then it will be dealt with by the Supreme Court under section 296 of Queensland’s Criminal Code (s296 Code) making it homicide. In other states such as New South Wales, any person that assists in the act of euthanasia could be convicted of murder and is liable to life imprisonment (S 19A of the Crimes Act 1900, NSW.) However, with euthanasia being illegal, there are some alternative end-of-life laws which exist to the terminally ill.

Currently with euthanasia being illegal in Australia, the only end-of-life laws which exist are known as Advanced Medical Directives (AMD). An Advanced Medical Directive is a legal document that is signed by a terminally ill patient for their right to refuse medical treatment and/or assistance. An AMD document, once signed, will continue into situations in which a person may become unconscious or demented. An AMD document usually consists of a list of various treatments a person finds unacceptable to them. Although in Australia an AMD can be made by any Australian citizen meeting the requirement of 18 years of age and sound at mind, the legal status of an AMD document varies from state to state. In 1998, Queensland passed the Powers of Attorney Act (QLD), permitting the legality of an AMD; however amendments passed in 2001 allow proxies or agents to consent to the withdrawal and/or withholding of medical treatment if a doctor considers these treatment attempts to be futile. In regards to the Northern Territory and South Australia, AMD’s are only legally recognised by terminally ill patients that meet the Australian legal requirements to make a valid AMD (18 years of age and sound at mind.) All other states in Australia, excluding New South Wales have legally recognised an AMD and/or Enduring Power Attorney to make decisions if a patient is incapable of doing so, e.g. to refuse medical treatment. In NSW, the legality of an AMD document is still to be recognised, however an...

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