Euthanasia in Australia

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Philip Nitschke, an Australian physician and author, is a prominent international campaigner on euthanasia.

Euthanasia is illegal in Australia, but was legal for a period in the Northern Territory. It is not a crime for a person to take their own life. Furthermore, a patient can elect not to receive any treatment for a terminal illness and can also elect to have their life support turned off.[1]

Current situation[edit]

Although it is a crime to assist in euthanasia,[2] prosecutions have been rare. In 2002, relatives and friends who provided moral support to an elderly woman who committed suicide were extensively investigated by police, but no charges were laid. The Commonwealth government subsequently tried to hinder euthanasia with the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Materials Offences) Bill of 2004. In Tasmania in 2005 a nurse was convicted of assisting in the death of her elderly father, who had terminal cancer, and trying to kill her mother, who was in the early stages of dementia.[3] She was sentenced to two and a half years in jail but the judge later suspended the conviction because he believed the community did not want the woman jailed. This sparked debate about decriminalising euthanasia.[4] Decriminalisation of Euthanasia in Australia is supported by the Science Party,[5] Australian Greens, the Secular Party of Australia, the Australian Sex Party, the Australian Democrats, and the Liberal Democratic Party.[6]

In 2008 Shirley Justins and Caren Jennings, were found guilty of manslaughter and accessory to manslaughter respectively for providing Nembutal to former pilot Graeme Wylie in 2006. Justins stated that Wylie wanted to die "with dignity". The prosecution argued that Graeme Wylie did not have the mental capacity to make the crucial decision to end his life, classing it as involuntary euthanasia.[7]

An omission to provide life-sustaining medical treatment is lawful in Australia, unless the patient is deemed mentally incapable of consent.[8]

In 2011 the Supreme Court of New South Wales gave a two-year suspended sentence to a 66-year-old man who had facilitated the death of his long-term 78-year-old partner by helping her overdose on drugs and suffocating her. The deceased suffered from severe pain arising from a spinal condition. Furthermore, the deceased had expressed a wish to die in a suicide note written prior to her death. The court convicted the man of manslaughter. The court accounted for the accused’s substantial impairment at the time the act was committed as well the fact that he voluntarily revealed his involvement in the commission of the offence.[9]

Exit International made TV ads arguing for voluntary euthanasia, which were banned just before they were scheduled to broadcast in September 2010.[10]

Northern Territory[edit]

Euthanasia was legalised in Australia's Northern Territory, by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. It passed by a vote of 15 to 10 and a year later, a repeal bill was brought before the Northern Territory Parliament in August 1996, but was defeated by 14 votes to 11.[11] Soon after, the law was voided by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (Cth), an Australian statute of the Australian Parliament that amended the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978,[12] the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cth) and the Norfolk Island Act 1979 (Cth) to remove the power of each of those territories to legalise euthanasia, and specifically to repeal the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT). The powers of the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and the Norfolk Island legislatures, unlike those of the State legislatures, are not guaranteed by the Australian constitution and may be amended or overruled by the Commonwealth. However, before the Commonwealth government made this amendment, three people had already died through physician assisted suicide under the legislation, aided by Dr Philip Nitschke. The first person was a carpenter, Bob Dent, who died on 22 September 1996.


Tasmania came close to legalising voluntary euthanasia in November 2013, when a Greens-initiated voluntary euthanasia bill was narrowly defeated in the House of Assembly by a vote of 13-11. The bill would have allowed terminally ill Tasmanians to end their lives 10 days after making three separate requests to their doctor. Although both major parties allowed a conscience vote, all ten Liberals voted against the legislation, with Labor splitting seven in favour and three against, and all five Greens voting in favour.[13]

South Australia[edit]

In November 2016, the South Australian House of Assembly narrowly rejected a private member's bill which would have legalised a right to request voluntary euthanasia in circumstances where a person is in unbearable pain and suffering from a terminal illness. The bill was the first ever euthanasia bill to pass a second reading stage (27 votes to 19) though the bill was rejected during the clauses debate of the bill (23 votes all, with the Speaker's casting vote against the bill).[14]


On September 20th 2017, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 was introduced into the Victorian Parliament by the Andrews Labor Government. The Bill is modelled on the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Professor Brian Owler. The proposed legislation is said to be the most conservative in the world and contains 68 safeguards including a criminal offences to protect vulnerable people from coercion and abuse, as well as a board to review each case. The Bill was introduced into parliament now so that MPs would have time to consider it before returning to parliament in October to debate the Bill.[15]. Labor MPs will be allowed a conscience vote on the Bill.[16][17]

New South Wales[edit]

On September 21st 2017 National Party MLC Trevor Khan introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 into the New South Wales Parliament. The Bill is modelled on the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, and and was developed by a cross party working group that considered 72 "substantial" submissions.[18] The Bill contains " a raft of safeguards" including a seven person oversight board to review all assisted deaths.[19]. Debate on the Bill is expected to be debated in November 2017 and decided by a conscience vote.[18][20]


The euthanasia advocacy group[21] is the peak organisation nationally representing the "Dying with Dignity" associations of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania,[22] as well as the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (SAVES),[23] the Western Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (WAVES)[24] and the Northern Territory Voluntary Euthanasia Society (NTVES).[25]

Exit International is an Australian euthanasia advocacy group founded by Philip Nitschke. Other Australian groups include Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia[26] and Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice.[27]

Australian institutions and organisations that oppose the legalisation of euthansia are groups such as HOPE[28] and the Australian Catholic Church.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Advance Care Directives - South Australia". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  2. ^ Justins v Regina [2010] NSWCCA 242 AustLII
  3. ^ "Legal case reopens euthanasia debate". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 December 2005. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 
  4. ^ "Assisted suicide case prompts calls for euthanasia law review". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 December 2005. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  5. ^ "8 Freedom and Rights". Retrieved 26 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Assisted Suicide". Liberal Democratic Party. 2009. 
  7. ^ Arlington, Kim (20 June 2008). "Graeme Wylie's partner Shirley Justins guilty of manslaughter". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  8. ^ "Australian Capital Territory v JT [ 2009] ACTSC 105 (28 August 2008)". AustLII. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  9. ^ R v Mathews [2011] NSWSC 339 (28 April 2011) AustLII
  10. ^ Alexander, Cathy (13 September 2010). "Pro-euthanasia TV ad ban 'a violation of free speech'". The Age. Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  11. ^ "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Australia". The World Federation of Right to Die Societies. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  12. ^ "Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978". 
  13. ^ "Voluntary euthanasia law defeated by two votes". ABC News. 26 November 2013. 
  14. ^ "Voluntary euthanasia: South Australian Parliament knocks back Death With Dignity euthanasia bill". ABC News. 17 November 2016. 
  15. ^ Edwards, Edwards (19 September 2017). "Victoria's assisted dying bill to hit Parliament, to be voted on by end of year". Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  16. ^ "Premier's Department Historic Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill Now In Parliament". 20 September 2017. Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  17. ^ Johnston, Matt; Hore, Monique (20 September 2017). "Assisted dying Bill before parliament includes safeguards to prevent encouraging euthanasia". Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  18. ^ a b "Emotions high as assisted dying bill lands". 21 September 2017. Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  19. ^ Nicholls, Sean (19 September 2017). "Oversight safeguard added to proposed assisted dying laws in NSW". Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  20. ^ Hawke, Sarah (21 September 2017). "Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill to be introduced to NSW Parliament with option for patients to end their own life". Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 June 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-07. .
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-25. 
  23. ^ "Saves". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  24. ^ "WAVES - West Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  25. ^ "NTVES". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  26. ^ "Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  27. ^ "Welcome |". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  28. ^ "Home - HOPE: No Euthanasia". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 
  29. ^ Sutherland, Irene. "Euthanasia - Catholic Church in Australia". Retrieved 2016-10-19. 

Further reading[edit]