A private member's bill to legalise euthanasia in South Australia was scheduled for a conscience vote today in state parliament. Co-sponsored by Labor MP Steph Key and Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge, there was bipartisan support. However, the bill has been postponed to allow changes to its wording.
SA was the first Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality back in 1972, followed by possession of "small amounts" of marijuana in 1987. However, state lawmakers have spent over 20 years trying to get voluntary euthanasia on the books. Key and McFetridge's bill is the 14th attempt since 1995.
The bill, which describes itself as "an Act to provide for choices at the end of life," was introduced in February, but has already undergone several revisions. Now five MPs are requesting further amendments, according to MP McFetridge.
"These were people that had initially indicated that they would progress the bill to the committee stage but then had second thoughts and then withdrew their support for that next step," he told ABC.
McFetridge claimed there was particular concern around the term "unbearable suffering," which was ambiguous and could potentially provide opportunities for people to be coerced into providing consent.
This has been a long running concern, with one MP in April raising concerns that the bill will create an ethical slippery slope.
"This is the sort of thing that was done in the 40s in Nazi Germany," Liberal MP Adrian Pederick told Parliament, in relation to a query about aged care funding. "I just feel that comments like that lead us down a slippery slope."
Supporters of the bill claim a mandatory 48-hour cooling off period will ensure that such hypotheticals won't arise. It will also require doctors to get psychiatric reports for patients, if they think an applicant can't soundly make the decision or have doubts about their sincerity.
However, lawmakers concerned that South Australia would become a destination for death tourism have also requested that applicants must have lived in the state for at least one year before being eligible. They must then wait two weeks before their request can be approved.
Duncan McFetridge is adamant that the bill will be revised and returned for voting. As he told the ABC, "The way around it is to introduce a new bill with all the amendments in it so it's a clean piece of legislation. What they see is what they've asked for."