Federal legislation trumps state-sanctioned euthanasia
In a significant defeat for euthanasia supporters, the Senate last month [15 August] rejected an attempt to allow territories to legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The Senate voted against Senator David Leyonhjelm’s bill 36 votes to 34.
The bill would have overturned legislation which abolished the Northern Territory’s euthanasia regime in 1997. Four people died under the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws, where failed safeguards meant candidates for assisted suicide were considered even if they showed signs of depression. In one case there was doubt the person had a terminal illness.
Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, wrote to senators to oppose the Leyonhjelm bill.
“Legislation which would allow a third party to end or assist in ending another human being’s life is among the most serious considered by parliaments,” said Archbishop Prowse.
“This is not an issue of territory rights. The Australian Constitution makes it clear that the Australian Parliament can make laws for the government of territories. That’s not a power which has been used lightly, but is appropriate when small jurisdictions with unicameral parliaments are deciding to allow something as serious as state-sanctioned deaths, particularly when that decision may threaten the wellbeing of vulnerable people and people in neighbouring states.”
States have a number of rights that territories do not enjoy, but the territory governments focused their lobbying efforts on the right to legislate on euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Self-government legislation allows the Governor General to dissolve the ACT’s Legislative Assembly, much like a state government can sack a council. The ACT is also prevented from legislating on issues like censorship.
Perhaps the most obvious difference is states have 12 senators each while the territories only have two each.
The territory governments did not challenge any of these differences – just the right to legislate for assisted suicide.
The Archbishop also raised concerns over resources for palliative care.
“I am particularly concerned this legislation is coming forward at the same time that a Legislative Assembly inquiry has heard there is a significant shortage of palliative care doctors, nurses and beds in Canberra,” said Archbishop Prowse.
“Euthanasia and assisted suicide go to the very heart of who we are as a society and how we regard people in our community. Do all people have equal human dignity and value or are some lives, because of illness or disability, no longer worthy of our continued love, respect and protection?”