Australia21 – a non-profit body, committed to an analysis of complex issues, which bear on Australia’s future – was approached in 2012 with the suggestion that the issues of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide would benefit from Australia21’s multidisciplinary approach to the exploration of complex policy issues. As preparation for a roundtable conference Australia21 produced a discussion paper “How should Australia regulate voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide?”
This paper formed the basis for a round table discussion in January 2013 in involving a diverse group of doctors, lawyers, former politicians, ethicists, big picture thinkers and activists, including people supporting and opposed to law reform on this topic. Among the participants in this round table were experts as Marshall Perron, Rodney Syme, Peter Baume, Bob Brown, Helga Kuhse and a number of representatives of the Australian RtD Societies. The conclusions were published in “The right to choose an assisted death: Time for legislation?”
“How should Australia regulate voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide?”
This paper has drawn together some of the key issues in the vast body of literature dealing with law, practice and opinion relating to VE and AS. It outlined the broader legal landscape at the end of life, the attempts to make these practices lawful in Australia, and the situation in those jurisdictions where VE and/or AS are lawful. It also considered the practices at the end of life in Australia and overseas, the arguments that have been advanced in favour of and against legalisation, and possible reform options. We have attempted to approach this exercise in a balanced way that acknowledges the complexity of these issues and the diversity of views held.
While a paper like this cannot be comprehensive, it provides a departure point for a conversation by interested parties about the future of how VE and AS should be regulated. Part of that conversation will include identifying what further research and information will be needed to properly consider this issue. At various places in this paper, we have suggested where further work is needed to inform consideration of these issues.
“The right to choose an assisted death: Time for legislation?”
There was a constructive dialogue at an all day meeting in Brisbane on 31 January 2013. This report has two parts. The first part describes the roundtable and some of the key concerns among the participants. It presents the diversity of views on this topic and the background to the arguments that have been used both for and against assisted dying. No attempt was made to reach consensus between those supporting and opposing reform on this issue but rather the goal was to facilitate a respectful understanding between the two groups. The second part of the report describes what the authors, writing for Australia21, have concluded from this rich exchange of ideas and concerns, from the transcript of the discussion which included summative statements by all of the participants at the end of the day, and from published literature. Australia21 hopes that by distributing this report, Australian legislators will be encouraged to engage in this debate with a clearer understanding of the concerns on both sides of the argument. Australia21’s purpose in this report is not to propose a definitive legislative solution to assisted dying – there is already a wealth of documented and evaluated experience on this matter – but to broaden understanding of the difficulties which current Australian law causes for patients and carers alike, and to explain why the authors have concluded that legislative action is now needed.
We hope that the debate and discussion that follows can put aside some of the sloganism and rhetoric that have sometimes dominated public and political discourse in this area. VE and AS are complex issues that give rise to a range of competing considerations. Rational engagement with law, ethics and practice can be obscured by outlandish claims and emotive language, and this has occurred in the past on both sides of the debate. We are hopeful for a new dawn of engagement on this issue where people of differing views are genuinely interested in understanding the perspectives of others.