Back to Forum


Assisted Dying Bill in Victoria Must Be Rejected

By Hoa Trung Dinh SJ

In June 2016, the eight-member Legislative Council Committee submitted to the Parliament of Victoria the Final Report of the Inquiry into end of life choices.  In this Report, the Committee recommends the legalisation of doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia in Victoria.  The Committee suggests that doctors should be authorised to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients who can use them to end their life. 

The Committee also insists that, for a person who is physically unable to take the lethal drug, due either to disability or incapacity, “a doctor should be able to assist a person to die by administering the drug.” [1] 

Later this year, a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be voted on in Parliament to decide whether assisted suicide and euthanasia will be legalized in Victoria.  If it is passed, Victoria will be the first State in Australia to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide since the NT Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was annulled two decades ago.

In 1996, Northern Territory passed the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to legalise euthanasia.  This was overturned less than a year later by the Federal Government.  Since then, other euthanasia Bills have been rejected in Victoria, SA, and Tasmania.

In the last few years, euthanasia campaigners such as Andrew Denton and Dr Rodney Syme have presented stories of persons dying in unbearable distress to argue the case for assisted death.  The Melbourne paper, The Age, has shown itself to be a strong supporter of euthanasia by selectively publishing articles that support euthanasia legislation, but providing little space for anti-euthanasia perspectives.  In the aftermath of the Royal Commission investigations into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the religious voices are too readily dismissed by the public on this issue.

The 2016 Victorian Parliament’s Report also puts forward the arguments in support of change in law.  It is argued that euthanasia legislation would (1) enhance individual autonomy or self-determination, (2) provide relief from suffering for patients and loved ones, (3) prevent suicide by other means, (4) benefit doctor-patient relationship.  They also argue that (5) assisted dying occurs already, and is unregulated, (6) assisted dying is a form of palliative care.  These arguments are either erroneous or simply naïve. 

First, As British actress and disability rights advocate Liz Carr said in her captivating address to Victorian Parliament on 22 March 2017 euthanasia legislation would lead to further coercion against vulnerable persons in society: the elderly and people with disability.  Once voluntary suicide is legalised, to continue living becomes a choice that people will have to justify to themselves, their family, and society.  It is especially the case for persons who have to depend on the assistance of others: the elderly, and people with disability.  Note that elder abuse is currently a growing concern in Australia.  The Australian Law Reform Commission is calling for law changes to protect elders from abuse at the hands of their children and carers.  One suggested intervention is a national register of enduring powers of attorney in order to “prevent greedy children from using the document as a ‘licence to steal’ from their elderly parents”.[2]  In this context, legalising euthanasia would diminish individual autonomy, not enhance it, if we look at it from the perspective of the most vulnerable in society. 

Second, the role of palliative care for dying persons is to relieve pain and suffering, but not by killing the ones who suffer.  Intentional killing of patients is not a medical treatment, and assisted suicide is not a form of palliative care. 

Third, legalising assisted suicide is not an answer to the problem of pain and distress in the dying patient, but improving the quality and access to palliative care for Victorians.  The argument that medical suicide will prevent suicides by other means is very misguided indeed.

Fourth, as Professor Margaret Somerville points out, the medical profession is trusted because it carries the value of respect for life in a secular society.  Authorising doctors to cause their patient’s death would damage the doctor-patient relationship by undermining that trust.  In Canada, increasing numbers of doctors request to be removed from the “assisted dying” lists after they assisted patients to die.  Euthanasia legislation would result in great harm not only to vulnerable individuals and populations, but to health professionals as well.

Fifth, the key difference between palliative care and euthanasia is the intention behind the doctor’s medical intervention.  In palliative care, the intention is to care for the patient by relieving pain and distress.  In euthanasia and assisted suicide, the intention is to cause the death of the patient.  For this reason, euthanasia and assisted suicide are radically different from palliative care.  The British House of Lords (9 May 1994) regards the prohibition of intentional killing “the cornerstone of law and of social relationships”.  To overturn this prohibition would undermine the very fabric of society.

For these reasons, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill in Victoria must be again rejected. 


[1] The Parliament of Victoria, The Final Report of the Inquiry into end of life choices, June 2016, #8.6.1.