Death down under
Another Australian state is poised to legalize euthanasia
Tasmania is set to become the third state in Australia to legalize euthanasia. On Tuesday, its upper house of Parliament approved amendments to legislation that will allow people suffering from irreversible conditions to end their lives early, within six months of their expected deaths. The legislation will take effect about 18 months after it receives final approval from Tasmania’s governor, which should happen within a month.
Lawmaker Mike Gaffney first introduced his “Voluntary Assisted Dying” bill in August 2020, citing a widespread desire for “the right to choose.” Surveys show 85 percent of Australians support euthanasia. Tasmanian lawmakers previously considered similar legislation three times since 2009. In 2019, Victoria and Western Australia legalized assisted suicide. One member of the Tasmanian Parliament praised the passage of Gaffney’s bill, saying it will ensure that suffering people “are empowered to make an informed choice about their end of life.”
Pro-life groups have objected to the movement all along. Ben Smith, a spokesman for the Tasmanian group Live and Die Well, attributed the apparent widespread support for assisted suicide and euthanasia partially to “a broad level of confusion about end-of-life concepts” and a lack of information about the bill’s details. “Some people think that turning off machines is euthanasia, which it is not,” he said, distinguishing between removing life-giving support and actively killing with lethal drugs.
Smith said a subclause in the bill would allow people with conditions such as diabetes or chronic asthma to stop receiving treatment until their health declined so much they qualified as having a terminal condition, which would allow them to access euthanasia. He also pointed to the bill’s imprecise definition of “intolerable suffering.” Factors like those would make the law broadly applicable with little protection against the slippery slope seen in other countries, where barriers have slowly eroded.
“We believe that it is better to focus on pain alleviation rather than patient elimination,” says Live and Die Well’s website, echoing the stance of other similar groups around the world. The group fears legalizing euthanasia will only make palliative care harder to access by creating “funding pressures that will detract rather than promote the expansion” of this life-affirming method of pain management.
The legalization of euthanasia in Tasmania could increase the likelihood of the practice becoming legal in Queensland and South Australia—other Australian states that are considering similar legislation this year. If both of those states legalize euthanasia, Smith said it would put pressure on New South Wales as the only remaining state did not allow it.
In an email, Smith noted the international implications: “The more jurisdictions that legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, the more other U.S. states will come under pressure, as well.” As the West normalizes the practice, what starts out as a slippery slope in one country could turn into a death trap for the entire globe.
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