Two decades of euthanasia law reform attempts in Australia: Are there any lessons to be learnt?

Professor Lindy Willmott,1 Professor Ben White,2 Christopher Stackpoole,3 Dr Kelly Purser,4 Dr Andrew McGee5

1Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane 4000, Queensland, Australia, l.willmott@qut.edu.au
2Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane 4000, Queensland, Australia, bp.white@qut.edu.au
3 Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane 4000, Queensland, Australia, christopher.stackpoole@protonmail.com

4 Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane 4000, Queensland, Australia, k.purser@qut.edu.au
5 Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane 4000, Queensland, Australia, a.mcgee@qut.edu.au

Law reform to allow euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide (or ‘assisted dying’ as it is commonly labelled now) is likely to occur in Australia at some point in the future. The authors suggest that pressure to reform the law comes from a range of factors: there is high and sustained public support for reform, an ageing and increasingly informed population seeking greater choice at the end of their lives, a changing legal landscape internationally and continued agitation for reform from the media (including social media).

Over the past two decades or so, there has also been a sustained attempt by individual politicians in most Australian states and territories to amend current laws that prohibit such acts. More than 50 bills have been tabled since the first voluntary euthanasia bill was introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly by an independent member of parliament, Michael Moore, on 16 June 1993. Yet (at least at the time of writing this abstract), both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide remain unlawful throughout Australia.

In this paper, the authors present the results of its review of legislative attempts in Australia over the past two decades. We examine who has been proposing reform, relevant political affiliations and the role, more broadly, that party politics has played. We have examined the nature of those attempts to better understand the various legislative models that have been proposed, and the differences between them. Through a close examination of parliamentary records, we also identify a handful of those Bills that have been ‘close to passing’ (including the Bill that was passed into law for a brief period in the Northern Territory), and examine whether any conclusions can be drawn from why these Bills, although unsuccessful (except for the Northern Territory Bill), garnered a greater degree of political support.


Biography

Lindy Willmott is a Professor with the Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology and a Director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at QUT.  She researches in the area of health law, particularly end-of-life issues and is currently undertaking a number of empirical research projects funded by the ARC.  She is also a Chief Investigator in a NHMRC funded Centre of Research Excellence on End of Life.  Lindy is also the author of many text books and is one of the editors of the text ‘Health Law in Australia’.