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Hoping for support across the political spectrum for voluntary euthanasia

Author: Senator Richard Di Natale
08 July 2014
  • Australian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale: hoping the Australian Parliament will rethink its approach to right to die laws

When I first introduced the private member’s bill (Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2012) into the Australian Parliament, it inspired the very important discussion about having the right to die with dignity.

That bill, which failed, was trying to overturn the ban that Kevin Andrews had put in place during the Howard Government which prevented the ACT and the Northern Territory from enacting legislation that would allow people to choose to end their own life under certain circumstances.

Now I have introduced into the Parliament an exposure draft that means members of parliament can consider national laws to that effect.

The draft legislation has been referred to a Senate inquiry so that other members of parliament can hear from people with terminal illnesses and their families, and they can understand and be assured about the safeguards that would be put in place. This should not be a party political issue. It is not about politics, although it is the federal parliament that has the power to decide whether Australians can have the right to choose to end their own life.

I am hopeful that there will be a real coalition of support across the political spectrum because legislation like this can succeed in the Parliament only if it has support from members of all parties.

Modern palliative care was founded by Cicely Saunders who wanted to improve the care for people dying from terminal illnesses.  Using money left to her by a patient who died from cancer, Cicely Saunders wanted to provide dignity and care for people who were being neglected by the medical community.

For me, the right to quality and accessible health care, to comfort and care during illness, to medications that ease pain and suffering and voluntary euthanasia can all offer a dignified death. 

I have previously outlined my position – that as a former general practitioner I have sat with families talking about the care and options for their loved ones.  It is a difficult and traumatic experience dealing with end of life care.  Every person and every family has their own views and their own beliefs and cultural and religious considerations.  However, we know from research that the vast majority of Australians want the option of voluntary euthanasia to be available for their consideration.

My views have been reinforced by spending time with Peter Short, Cath Ringwood and Max Bromson; brave and selfless people battling terminal cancer.   They came to Canberra to talk about their own terminal conditions and to support my legislation.  Peter, Cath and Max, and their families, have decided that, when they are ready and regardless of the law and the ramifications, they will take matters into their own hands.

Currently, if I or any other person – be they a medical practitioner or a nurse or a family member – assist someone to take their own lives, then they are guilty of committing a criminal act. 

I don’t believe this is right or fair.  Most Australians share the view that people with terminal illness should be able to have the option of ending their own life.

As a doctor, I know the incredible work that palliative care can offer, and I absolutely support the work of Palliative Care Australia.  But I also believe that someone with a terminal illness should be allowed the option of deciding the place and time of their death.

Deciding how you want to die is one of the most personal and important choices an individual could ever make. I can’t see any reason why the state should take away that freedom.

Richard Di Natale is the Australian Greens health spokesperson and a former GP.

Palliative Care Australia has formulated a position statement on voluntary euthanasia.

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