A key member of the “independent and objective” panel advising Tasmanian MPs on Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) has a long history of strong advocacy for the reform, prompting claims that the body lacks balance. University of Tasmania law professor Margaret Otlowski is one of four review panel members whose expert report will help shape the state’s final voluntary assisted dying law, which is set to pass parliament in March. The panel was requested by Premier Peter Gutwein, a declared supporter of the private member’s bill, to provide “independent and objective” advice to MPs ahead of the vote. This advice is to include a comparison to legislation in other jurisdictions, an “objective analysis” of safeguards, the interrelationship between VAD and palliative care, and stakeholder feedback. Opponents of the bill have said they are concerned Professor Otlowski, as the key legal expert on the panel, has been a consistent and firm supporter of VAD.
A check of the public record shows the professor, whose integrity and expertise are not questioned, has made submissions to various inquiries in support of the concept of VAD. She even was credited with helping to draft previous, doomed Tasmanian VAD legislation in 2013. The professor, a pro vice-chancellor, has publicly dismissed some of the key concerns raised against VAD, including in relation to the adequacy of safeguards adopted elsewhere, and appeared in public as part of a group of VAD supporters in 2013. Live and Die Well, representing opponents of the bill put forward by independent upper house MP Mike Gaffney, said a second legal expert should be appointed to the panel to balance Professor Otlowski’s pro-VAD views. “Professor Otlowski has a 25-year track record as a euthanasia advocate,” group spokesman Ben Smith said.
“Professor Otlowski’s many parliamentary submissions display a dismissive attitude in respect to the risks of euthanasia legislation for vulnerable people, so her views appear fixed. “It is critical that there is a balance of legal views on the panel so that people will have confidence that the issues they raise in their submissions will get a full and fair hearing and consideration. Professor Otlowski declined to comment, saying that the panel members had agreed among themselves not to speak to the news media during their deliberations on the euthanasia legislation.
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