Adapted from SAVES — South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia SocietyThe following Fact Sheet has been prepared by the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (SAVES). For further information visit their website .

Voluntary Euthanasia in Australia and the Netherlands

Most of what is known about the practice of voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands is based on two government sponsored nationwide studies carried out there in 1990 and 1995 (See Fact Sheet 4 and Fact Sheet 17). 
A comparable study was carried out in Australia with the support of a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (Kuhse H, Singer P, Baume P, Clark M, Rickard M. End-of-life decisions in Australian medical practice. Med J Aust 1997; 166: 191-6). 
For the first time it is possible to make a comparision of end-of-life medical practice in two countries, one of which allows the practice of voluntary euthansia in certain circumstances and one which does not. (The brief period from July 96 to March 97 during which voluntary euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory, see Fact Sheet 19, came after the data gathering period.) 
The two countries have similar populations, 18 million in Australia and 15.3 million in the Netherlands, and similar annual death rates, 7.1 and 8.7 per thousand respectively. 
The following comparisons of percentage of all deaths are made: 

Australia Netherlands Netherlands 
1995/6 1990 1995 
Voluntary Euthanasia 1.7% 1.7% 2.4% 
Physician Assisted Suicide 0.1% 0.2% 0.2% 
Ending life without explicit request 3.5% 0.8% 0.7% 
prolonging treatment 28.6% 17.9% 20.2% 
Alleviation of pain in sufficient 
dosage to be likely to hasten death 30.9% 18.8% 19.1% 
All of these 64.8% 39.4% 42.6% 

The study revealed that in 30% of all Australian deaths, a medical end-of-life decision was made with the explicit intention of ending the patient’s life. Only 4% were in response to a direct request from the patient. The authors conclude that:

“Australian law has not prevented doctors from practising euthanasia or making medical end-of-life decisions explicitly intended to hasten death without the patient’s request.”

Whatever criticisms of the study are made, or interpretations offered, it is clear that the situation in Australia is less satisfactory than in the Netherlands, where there is more emphasis on the careful regulation and monitoring of medical end-of-life decision-making. The case is strengthened for law reform to permit voluntary euthanasia under appropriate safeguards. 

For further information visit their website .

Or contact: Hon Secretary, SAVES, PO Box 2151, Kent Town, SA 5071, Australia – Fax + 61 8 8265 2287