Legalised physician assisted death in the Australasian context: At the intersection between ethics, law and end of life care

Linda Sheahan1

1 Centre for Values Ethics and the Law in Medicine, The University of Sydney, Medical Foundation Blg K25, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Clinical Ethics Consultant and Staff Specialist Palliative Care, South East Sydney Local Health District , Research Support Office, G71, East Wing Edmund Blacket Building, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick NSW 2031,

The issue of physician assisted death (PAD) remains a highly contested. There are a number of jurisdictions around the world that have for some time had forms of legalised assisted death, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington State, Vermont and Montana. More recently, California and Canada have introduced PAD legislation. In June 2016, the Parliament of Victoria Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Subcommittee Inquiry into End of Life Choices recommended legalisation of assisted death in the Australian state of Victoria.[1] This paper will briefly review the ethical arguments for and against legalisation of assisted death, summarise the international experience of assisted death in jurisdictions where it has been legalised, and contextualise the recommendation for legalised assisted death in Australia with reference to end of life care more broadly. It will finish with identification of the questions that yet need to be answered to help guide next steps at the intersection between bioethics, end of life care, and the law.

[1] Parliament of Victoria Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Subcommittee Inquiry into End of Life Choices Final Report. Accessed 16 June 2016 at:


Dr Linda Sheahan is a Palliative Medicine Physician and Clinical Ethics Consultant for the South East Area Health Service NSW. She is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine, holding a conjoint appointment with UNSW medical school. She has a Fellowship in Clinical and Organisational Ethics with the Joint Centre for Bioethics in Toronto, Canada, and is the Clinical Ethics Consultant for South East Sydney Local Health District. She is an Honorary Associate with the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law, University of Sydney.

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

The AABHL is a supportive, creative and challenging community that provides a rich source of continuing academic refreshment and renewal.

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