The struggle for the legalisation of assisted suicide across the nation will be long and hard.
In Victoria, assisted suicide is set to be legal from July 2019. However, this could change if a new Victorian Government reinstates a ban or stymies implementation. Already we’ve heard from Tony Abbott that, “a future Victorian parliament should have the moral decency to repeal this euthanasia law”.
The Liberal Democrats and other parties contesting this month’s upcoming Victorian state election will need to guard against any attempt to repeal Victoria’s landmark assisted suicide legislation or stymie its implementation.
But even if the Victorian advances are maintained, this is not enough. Australians outside Victoria who need the option of assisted suicide cannot simply move to Victoria; many are terminally ill and physically unable to move, and moving means leaving trusted healthcare support and family and friends.
In any case, the Victorian legislation will only cover those living in Victoria for more than a year, so anyone else suffering a terminal illness would probably still have to die a painful, natural death even if they moved to Victoria.
The only realistic approach is to legalise assisted suicide in each jurisdiction.
In New South Wales, Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats, the Shooters Party, most of the Liberals and half of Labor’s parliamentarians combined to vote down the legalisation of assisted suicide last year in the upper house. The vote was tight – 20 votes to 19 – so with pro-assisted suicide parties like the Liberal Democrats contesting the next NSW state election for the first time, the prospects for legalisation in NSW in the coming years are strong.
The prospects are also strong in Western Australia, where a parliamentary committee established with the backing of the Liberal Democrats’ Aaron Stonehouse MLC has recommended that the WA Government introduce assisted suicide legislation. Importantly, the WA Premier supports such legislation.
Prospects are weaker in Tasmania, where a bill to legalise assisted suicide was defeated 16 votes to 8 in the previous parliamentary term. The Liberal Premier was among the opponents, and the only Liberal to vote in favour lost his seat in the Tasmanian election earlier this year.
The Enlightenment is slow to come to Queensland too. In that state – where there is no upper house – Labor’s majority is slim and the crossbench is dominated by the Katter Australia Party. The Premier had been busy putting off the issue but eventually succumbed to pressure and agreed to an inquiry. However, the Liberal National Party in Queensland opposes assisted suicide and criticised the inquiry, saying the Queensland Government should focus on traffic issues instead.
Prospects are better in South Australia. A vote to legalise assisted suicide went down 24 to 23 in 2016, but ten of the ‘no’ voters then left the parliament at this year’s election while only five of the ‘yes’ voters left. So the current situation in South Australia is 14 parliamentarians opposed to legalising assisted suicide, 18 in favour and 15 unclear. South Australia’s new premier, Steven Marshall, who voted to legalise assisted suicide in the previous parliamentary term, should demonstrate leadership and put the issue to a vote in the current South Australian parliament.
The Northern Territory and ACT are currently prohibited by the Commonwealth from legalising assisted suicide. The Senate recently voted 36 to 34 against my bill to lift this ban, much to my regret. However, the next Senate election is likely to see an exodus of opponents of Territory rights including Senators Burston (United Australia Party), Georgiou (One Nation), Gichuhi (Liberals), Martin (Nationals) and Anning. This bodes well for a successful vote to restore Territory rights in the next parliamentary term.
Wherever we strive to legalise assisted suicide, we need to be prepared for the opposition we will face. We will come across groups representing a minority of doctors, like the Australian Medical Association. They are happy to have doctors decide whether a terminally-ill patient lives or dies, but object to the patients having a say. Many of these doctors are getting away with murder.
We will also come across people with a peculiar religious bent, who feel certain that they would never seek assisted suicide and are certain that everyone else should be like them.
And all across the nation we need to defeat the arrogance of those who think they know better than we do how we should die. Only then will we be free to choose our own life and death.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats