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Committee Name:

Constitutional Affairs Committee (1989 - 2001)


Legislative Council
Report Type:Report


Report in relation to Petitions Regarding Voluntary Euthanasia
Report No:23
No of Pages:22
Physical Location:Legislative Council Committee Office

Presentation Date:


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Hide details for Executive SummaryExecutive Summary
Literally, euthanasia means good or gentle death and derives from the Greek terms good (euth) and death (thanos).

However, the more commonly-accepted definition of euthanasia is actions that have as their intention or likely consequence the shortening of another person’s life.

Along with abortion, the issue of euthanasia, in its many forms, is a matter which evokes great passion among community members. Both issues raise the common issues: the value of human life and what control an individual should have over their own lives. For centuries, legislators have grappled with these and other conflicting issues; the rights of the individual against the rights of the community; the value of legislation which embodies and sets community standards against the value of having a legislature which does not interfere in the lives of citizens.

In May 1995, the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory enacted the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 which came into force on 1 July 1996. The Act allowed a doctor, in defined circumstances, to comply with a patient’s request to assist that person to end their life.

On 9 September 1996, Mr Kevin Andrews MHR, introduced a private member’s Bill in the House of Representatives to override the Northern Territory Act and remove the power of the Northern Territory Parliament to make such laws on euthanasia. On 24 March 1997, the Senate passed the Bill with amendments. Before the Bill was passed, four people were able to make use of the Northern Territory legislation.

Such was the debate and controversy created by the NT Act and the Federal over-riding legislation, that several members of State Parliaments indicated an intention to introduce legislation similar to the NT Act into their respective State Parliaments. These declarations sparked moves to introduce opposing legislation from opponents of voluntary euthanasia.

In Western Australia, Hon Ian Taylor MLA introduced the Medical Care of the Dying Bill to the Legislative Assembly in March 1995. This Bill allowed a terminally ill person to refuse medical treatment in certain circumstances. The Government has promised to introduce its own legislation dealing with this matter. In 16 October 1997, the Hon Norm Kelly MLC introduced the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill, which would legalise voluntary euthanasia in certain circumstances.

It was the view of the Committee that it was not appropriate to make any recommendations about the rights or wrongs of legalising voluntary euthanasia. Rather, the Committee undertook to report to the Parliament with an over-view of the arguments for and against voluntary euthanasia and palliative care.

In the Committee’s view the debate on euthanasia can be brought down to three questions:-

      Does the individual have an unfettered right to control, and by extension to end, their own life?
      Can the act of voluntary euthanasia be taken in isolation or does it have unwanted implications for others in the community?
      If it does have unwanted implications, can safeguards be put in place which ensure that the process is not open to abuse?

In investigating this matter, the Committee was also of the opinion that no inquiry regarding euthanasia would be complete without inquiring into palliative care, its availability and any likely impact it may have on the decision making process. The questions which the Committee chose to focus on were:-

        Is it possible to provide a sufficiently high standard of palliative care to relieve completely a person’s pain and suffering?
        If so, why would a person still opt to shorten their life?

The Committee took only a small number of submissions in this inquiry. Given the extensive airing given to the issues by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee and the Northern Territory Select Committee on Euthanasia, the Committee saw little point in covering the same ground after such a short time.

It became evident to the Committee in the course of taking evidence that, regardless of people’s views on voluntary euthanasia, there is widespread support for efficient, effective and resourced palliative care services. If such services were provided, the number of people wishing to commit voluntary euthanasia may be relatively small. Therefore, the Committee believes that there is a need for better public education about the availability of palliative care and a further examination of the ways in which a range of palliative care services can be made readily available to more people.

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