ACT government considering euthanasia for under 18s

Less than two months after the Territory Rights bill passed the Federal Parliament, the Australia Capital Territory government is already proposing euthanasia laws that could be the most radical in the country.

Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne, who has already begun work on a bill, said it is an opportunity for legislation to reflect the unique characteristics of Canberra.

“We're our own jurisdiction and while all of the states have broadly similar legislation, none of the states have identical legislation.

“So, there is an opportunity for us here to craft legislation that is broadly consistent but also reflects our own unique characteristics of the Canberra community".

What does she mean by reflecting the unique characteristics of the Canberra community?  According to the ABC it could mean considering some of the most extreme ideas in the country, including euthanasia access for teenagers.

Minister Cheyne told the media she expected the debate about age eligibility to form a key part of consultations.

She said young people had an “evolving capacity to make decisions about their best interests” and that extended to their medical needs.

“This is not about the capacity of five-year-olds to make decisions in their best interests … but, the law does recognise that as children age, and particularly in their later teen years, they develop maturity.”

She said she did not have a “predetermined view” about an age limit for accessing voluntary assisted dying in the ACT, and said the autonomy of children as decision makers in medical decisions was generally a “case-by-case basis”.

Cheyne has also said that the ACT may not require a two doctor assessment as is common in other jurisdictions, and has suggested that nurses could be part of the process.

“We're wondering quite openly: is there also a role for our nurse practitioners who are quite specialised and trained?”

She said nurse practitioners “could potentially be one of the [medical practitioners who assess patients], or, as is the case in some jurisdictions, be part of administering medications.”

In addition, the government would like to do away with requirements that a person has an illness that is likely to cause death within six months. Instead:

“...potential legislation in the ACT could stipulate that a person was eligible for the process if they had a prognosis that indicated there was suffering and that death was "reasonable and predicted.”

All of this work to introduce a Bill to the legislative assembly is being done without consideration for improving palliative care, which the Australian Medical Association's ACT branch president Dr Walter Abhayaratna says needs work.

“[Abhayaratna] added that the ACT government should look closely at the resources needed for implementing voluntary assisted dying in Canberra, including the availability of doctors.

"Because certainly our palliative care services could be improved," Dr Abhayaratna said.

During debate on overturning the territories euthanasia ban last year, Tara Cheyne scoffed at predictions made by then Senator Zed Seselja, that if the ACT government was given power to pass laws with respect to euthanasia and assisted suicide, that it would be likely “...(based on the record of this Labor-Greens government) … we would have the most extreme assisted-suicide legislation in the country”.

Ms Cheyne called this ‘scaremongering’.

And yet, true to form, as the government reveals their plans for euthanasia legislation, their starting point is already way more radical than laws in any other jurisdiction in the country.