Former Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, who led the push to ban voluntary assisted dying in the ACT and the Northern Territory, says a proposal being considered by the Barr government to open euthanasia to 14-year-olds shows society has “lost its way”. He said the “radical” proposal undermined efforts to lower rates of youth suicide, arguing a “law which says ‘you are better off dead’ will always be a bad law”. The ACT government is considering what could be the most liberal VAD scheme in the country if it removes the “arbitrary” requirement for people to have six or 12 months to live to access the scheme and opens it up to children as young as 14. “Instead of acquiescing to these proposals, we should be reasserting the value of every human life and providing the best possible care for all people, especially the vulnerable and the ill,” Mr Andrews said.
Andrews went on “We spend much time and effort rightly to prevent youth suicide. This proposal undermines all these efforts. Young people should be protected, not told they are disposable.” In 1997, Mr. Andrews co-sponsored a private-members bill, the Euthanasia Laws Act, that outlawed assisted suicide in the territories, scuppering Australia’s first VAD scheme operating in the Northern Territory. Four people were able to access the scheme before it was shut down following a fierce campaign, in part led by Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke, who ran a lobby group. Federal parliament last year voted to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act, paving the way for the ACT to legalise assisted suicide. “Until it was repealed, the Commonwealth Euthanasia Laws Act precluded the ACT from enacting such radical laws,” Mr. Andrews said.
Finance Minister and ACT senator Katy Gallagher would not be drawn on whether the Barr government’s proposal was too radical. Senator Gallagher, a former ACT chief minister, said she would “watch the debate” over the assisted suicide framework in Canberra and she was confident the ACT parliament was “mature” enough to pass responsible laws. “They are a mature parliament; they undertake wide consultation with their communities and ultimately it will be a matter for them,” she said. The doctor who assisted the first terminally ill patients in the NT to end their lives, Philip Nitschke, said he was heartened to hear the ACT was considering such a progressive policy. Dr Nitschke urged the ACT government to go further and relax requirements for a patient to be terminally ill to access assisted suicide entirely and remove any age limit at all so the scheme can be accessed by young children.
Nitschke has long advocated for the Swiss model which promotes access to assisted suicide as a human right, and allows anyone to access euthanasia, including spouses who do not wish to continue living after their partner has died. “They identified some of the major problems with the legislation in the other states: trying to establish some time limit for terminal illness is almost impossible, and that’s well recognised,” he said. “All of the states have more or less done that. They have said you have to be terminally ill, which means they expect to have died within six months or in the case of a neurological disease maybe 12 months. I think it is doomed to challenge and ultimately failure. “Changing the age which is the thing that’s caused all this concern by so many people about dropping the age is a very sensible thing … if a child is really sick and in an awful situation, they shouldn’t be denied this option, simply because they’re too young to qualify.”
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