A PERSON’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE
Most Australians believe terminally ill people should have the right to end their lives on their own terms. As people we love face ongoing suffering and pain in the grip of terminal illness, we owe it to them to provide the choice of a dignified, pain free death.
Voluntary euthanasia has been an emotive debate in Australia for many years, and it is one where many policy makers are lagging behind the community. When asked the Australian community consistently express high levels of support for reform. A 2011 survey found that 75% of Australians believed that a terminally ill person should be allowed to access physician assisted suicidei and a Newspoll survey from 2012 found support at 82.5%ii.
Conservative MPs have stymied voluntary euthanasia legislation in most parliaments across Australia. In 1997 the Federal Liberal Government went so far as to strip the ACT and Northern Territory of their rights to legislate on this important issue. It is time the federal parliament heard the community’s voice on Dying with Dignity legislation.
DYING WITH DIGNITY
The Greens will move a Senate inquiry into voluntary euthanasia in the next parliament with a view to introducing federal legislation to grant terminally ill people the right to request assistance from a medical practitioner to help end their life.
The legislation will be based in Section 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution, which allows the Commonwealth to legislate for the provision of medical services.
Dying with Dignity will:
- Provide terminally ill people with access to medical assistance to end their lives
- Establish safeguards to ensure to protect the vulnerable
- Protect physicians who provide medical assistance
Subject to strict conditions, this medical assistance would take the form of the provision of a lethal substance that the patient would administer themselves or, in the case of severe physical disability, be assisted to take.
ACCESS TO PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED EUTHANASIA
This framework will provide a person with a terminal illness the choice to request assistance from a medical practitioner to end their life. It allows patients, their families and their doctors to talk more openly about end-of-life choices when suffering becomes too great. Dying with Dignity is about giving the ultimate choice to dying people, who deserve whatever control they can exercise over their suffering when they are nearing the end of their lives.
Terminally ill people experiencing intolerable pain, suffering or distress will be able to choose to die a peaceful and dignified death at the time of their choosing. Their last weeks or months with their loved ones will be free from the burden of worrying about how bad things might get, about how late they can leave action, and about who will help them in the end.
SAFEGUARDS AROUND DYING WITH DIGNITY
A number of private members bills addressing dying with dignity have been introduced into state parliaments across Australia. Several countries currently have voluntary euthanasia legislation in place and Australia can learn a lot about the safe and successful operation of Dying with Dignity legislation from these experiences.
The Greens will move a Senate Inquiry early in the next parliament that examines domestic and international legislation with a view to developing national dying with dignity laws.
We anticipate as a minimum, the following features in any successful legislation. A terminally ill person would have to be examined by two independent medical practitioners as well as a psychiatrist before being given assistance. The patient would be of sound mind, making an informed decision to proceed, and they would be doing so free from duress. The patient would be able to change their mind at any time, and all physician assisted deaths would be subject to review.
The Dying with Dignity framework would not result in any health professionals being forced to participate in assisting people to die. No health care provider—whether it be a doctor, nurse, palliative care centre or hospital—would be under any obligation to participate.
PROTECTION FOR PHYSICIANS AND FAMILIES
A Dying with Dignity system will provide a considered and compassionate legal framework for a practice that is already happening in Australia behind closed doors. Physicians and families are already taking actions to ease the suffering of their patients and loved ones. Many are acting beyond the law and most support reformiii. A safe and structured Dying with Dignity system will remove these pressures from all parties during such a difficult time.
Having a framework for voluntary assisted dying for the terminally ill is a safer and fairer option. It is far better to regulate what is already happening than to allow it to continue unchecked. Dying with Dignity would put a framework around what is happening anyway, and it would provide greater peace of mind for all involved.
The Greens believe that caring for people means respecting their wishes - at all stages of life.
i The Australia Institute – Attitudes to voluntary euthanasia January 2011
iii Survey results at http://www.drs4vechoice.org/info