Voluntary assisted dying will soon be legal in all Australian states, after New South Wales passed a bill into law approving the act on Thursday. Within 18 months, eligible people with a fatal diagnosis will be legally allowed to access the means to end their own life—either by taking the medication themselves, or by having a health practitioner administer it to them.
In order to qualify, patients must have an advanced and progressive illness that will cause death, likely within six months (or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions), as well as the capacity to make the decision to proceed voluntarily and without duress. Their application will also need to be assessed by two medical practitioners.
The law passed on Thursday afternoon with a final vote of 23 to 15 from members of the state government’s Upper House, following a 10-hour debate during which opponents to the bill put forth nearly 100 amendments. Over the next 18 months, officials will draw up new systems and an oversight body before the measure is expected to take effect some time around the end of 2023.
NSW follows the lead of Victoria, which implemented an assisted dying scheme in June 2019, while Western Australia implemented its own assisted dying scheme in July 2021. Tasmania is expected to implement its own scheme in October, while South Australia is expected to do so by the end of the year, and Queensland in January 2023.
Assisted dying and euthanasia remain illegal in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Northern Territory, however, both of which fall under the control of the federal government. Australia’s territories are subject to a long-standing—and now increasingly controversial—Commonwealth ban that forbids them from holding a vote on the issue of voluntary assisted dying.
Shortly after NSW passed the law on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that in the event his government wins the federal election this weekend, they will not allow the Northern Territory and ACT a chance to vote on the issue.
The passing of the bill in NSW was met with praise by advocates across Australia, not least of all Alex Greenwich, the independent Sydney MP who first introduced the laws to parliament late last year and who described the moment as a “day when compassion has won.”
“This has been a long journey in this place, there have been many attempts prior to this,” Greenwich said. “Now our focus must shift to the federal parliament and it’s incumbent on our colleagues and federal partners to pass laws to allow the territories to be able to legislate for this compassion.”
Others were far less pleased with the result. One of the bill’s opponents, employee relations minister Damien Tudehope, described it as a “dark day for our state” and opined that the bill “betrayed” people suffering from terminal illness.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, described it in similarly doomful terms
“It is truly a dark day for New South Wales,” Fisher wrote in a public statement, which also appeared to criticise the state government’s decision to legalise abortion in 2019. “The 57th Parliament of NSW will be remembered as having the shameful record of
passing two of the most anti-life pieces of legislation that exist in Australia, and indeed around the world.”
“If a civilisation is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members, the NSW parliament has failed miserably and has set a dark and dangerous path for all posterity, determining a new and disturbing definition of what it means to be human.”
For advocates of assisted dying, though, the bill’s passing brings relief, reassurance, and comfort—and the campaign was fronted by many in the Australian government who have seen loved ones suffering in their final moments before death. Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst touched on the personal significance of Thursday’s development.
“Last year, I spent many hours next to my father who was in hospital, and he asked about this piece of legislation,” she said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “He made it very clear to us that he would have chosen a safe and dignified death if that choice had been available to him, but it wasn’t.
“I know there are so many others that went through the same thing as my family did, waiting for this piece of legislation.”
Advocates have now turned their attention to the Commonwealth ban, calling on the federal government to allow the territories to vote on the issue.
“Whichever party wins federal government this Saturday, we would call on them to overturn the legislation that prevents people in the territories from having the fundamental right to self-determination,” said Penny Hackett of advocacy organisation Dying with Dignity NSW.
“It's a denial of democracy, and they shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
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