Tasmania may get legal euthanasia

Michael Cook
9 Feb 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Tasmanians are once again gearing up for a debate over euthanasia. Labor Premier Lara Giddings and her Greens Deputy Nick McKim released a report this week arguing that euthanasia and assisted suicide are compassionate responses for "patients who are dying in prolonged suffering".

After a failed attempt in 2009, they hope that a revised private member's bill will pass before the end of 2013.

Estimates of how many people would choose euthanasia are as high as 120 a year, but the Premier said it was more likely to be fewer than 10.

She said that her bill had numerous safeguards, including several checks to confirm that the patient's intention would be persistent, consistent and voluntary. There is a two-week cooling off period and no provision for advanced directives. An independent body would oversee the process. "I think the model we have got here is the right model for Tasmania," Ms Giddings said.

Tasmania does need tailor-made legislation. It is an island of only 500,000 people, with a large rural population and a growing proportion of elderly. Although critics are sceptical, Giddings and McKim claim that there is no "sound evidence that there is a heightened risk for people who may be vulnerable due to their age, disability, mental illness or isolation". The term "elder abuse" is not even mentioned in the report.

Giddings and McKim believe that the case for legalised euthanasia is overwhelming. "In general, we are disappointed with the quality of claims and arguments [of opponents] and have found that many of them do not meet the standards required by parliamentarians when considering legislative reform."

Discarding almost everything written before 2009 as out-of-date and irrelevant made their job considerably easier. They drew most of their arguments from four sources: a 2011 report from the Royal Society of Canada, a 2011 report from the Commission on Assisted Dying in the UK, a 2012 report from the National Assembly of Québec, and the 2012 judicial decision in Carter v. Canada.