Euthanasia in Australia

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Australia states and territories' euthanasia legislation status (as of 2018):
  Euthanasia illegal
  Voluntary assisted dying legal from mid-2019

Euthanasia is illegal in Australia but Australian states can legislate on the issue. It was legal for a period in the Northern Territory and in November 2017 legislation to allow assisted suicide passed the Parliament of Victoria but will not come into effect until mid-2019.[1] Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia have debated and failed to pass similar legislation in 2013, 2017 and 2017, respectively. A patient can elect not to receive any treatment for a terminal illness and can also elect to have their life support turned off.[2]


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

Although it is a crime to assist in euthanasia and suicide, prosecutions have been rare. In 2010, the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal quashed a manslaughter conviction of a Sydney woman who had previously been found guilty of killing her partner of 18 years with a euthanasia drug.[3][4] 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.[5] 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.[6] Decriminalisation of Euthanasia in Australia is supported by the Science Party,[7] Australian Greens, the Secular Party of Australia, the Reason Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party.[8]

In 2009 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.[9]

An omission to provide life-sustaining medical treatment is lawful in Australia, unless the patient is deemed mentally incapable of consent.[10]

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.[11]

Exit International made TV ads arguing for voluntary euthanasia, which were banned just before they were scheduled to broadcast in September 2010.[12]

In 2018 Liberal Democrats legislator David Leyonhjelm introduced a bill into the Senate to remove the federal ban on the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory legislating for euthanasia. The bill was given priority in the Senate and was subject to a conscience vote for both the Coalition Government and opposition Labor Party, though it was defeated at the second reading stage by 36 votes to 34.[13]

Senate vote - Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015Second Reading[14]
Party Votes for Votes against Absent [nb 1][15] Lee Rhiannon favoured the legislation but resigned her seat earlier that day, so she was paired with Bridget McKenzie who opposed the legislation. Arthur Sinodinos, whose position on the bill was unknown, was absent from the chamber due to illness and Kim Carr, who favoured the bill was also absent from the chamber.[16]
Labor (26)
Liberal (22)
Greens (9)
Liberal National (5)
National (3)
One Nation (2)
Centre Alliance (2)
Country Liberal (1)
Australian Conservatives (1)
Katter's Australian (1)
Palmer United (1)
Justice (1)
Liberal Democratic (1)
Independent (1)
Total (76) 34 36 6

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.[17] Soon after, the law was voided by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (Cth),[18] a statute of the Australian Parliament that amended the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978,[19] the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cth),[20] and the Norfolk Island Act 1979 (Cth),[21] 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. Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm attempted to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act and in August 2018 introduced the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015. The bill was rejected by the Senate by 36 votes to 34.[13][22]


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 13-12. 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.[23]

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).[24]


On 20 September 2017, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 was introduced into the Victorian Parliament by the Andrews Labor Government. The bill was modelled on the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Professor Brian Owler.[25] The bill passed the parliament, with amendments made in the Legislative Council, on 29 November 2017.[26] In passing the bill, Victoria became the first state to legislate for voluntary assisted dying (VAD). The law received royal assent on 5 December 2017 and will come into effect in mid-2019.[26][27] Implementation of the legislation is the next step and will be an ongoing process.[28] Challenges with implementation include 1) restricting access to VAD to only those who are eligible, while ensuring it does not unfairly prevent those who are eligible from accessing it, 2) translating legislation into appropriate clinical practice, and 3) supporting and managing doctors who have conscientious objections.[28]

New South Wales[edit]

On September 21, 2017 National Party MLC Trevor Khan introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 into the New South Wales Parliament. The Bill was modelled on the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, and was developed by a cross party working group that considered 72 "substantial" submissions.[29] The Bill contained " a raft of safeguards" including a seven-person oversight board to review all assisted deaths.[30] The upper house debated the bill throughout several sittings in November 2017, and on 16 November the bill was voted down 20 votes to 19.[31]

Western Australia[edit]

In November 2018 the government of Western Australia announced it would introduce an assisted dying bill. The bill is due to come before parliament at some point in 2019.[32]


In November 2018, the Premier of Queensland launched an inquiry into the possibility of legalising voluntary assisted dying in her state. The inquiry will also take into account care of the aged, end of life, and palliative care.[33]


The euthanasia advocacy group[34] is the peak organisation nationally representing the "Dying with Dignity" associations of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania,[35] as well as the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (SAVES),[36] the Western Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society (WAVES)[37] and the Northern Territory Voluntary Euthanasia Society (NTVES).[38]

Exit International is an Australian euthanasia advocacy group founded by Philip Nitschke. Other Australian groups include Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia[39] and Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice.[40]

Australian institutions and organisations that oppose the legalisation of euthanasia include the Australian Medical Association,[41] HOPE,[42] Right to Life Australia[43] and the Australian Catholic Church.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kimberley Kitching opposed the legislation but was absent from the chamber, so she was paired with Gavin Marshall who favoured the legislation.


  1. ^ "Euthanasia: Victoria becomes the first Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying". ABC News. 29 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Advance Care Directives - South Australia". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  3. ^ "Conviction quashed in euthanasia case". Fairfax Media. 28 October 2010.
  4. ^ "Justins v Regina [2010] NSWCCA 242 (28 October 2010)".
  5. ^ "Legal case reopens euthanasia debate". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 December 2005. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Assisted suicide case prompts calls for euthanasia law review". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 December 2005. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  7. ^ "8 Freedom and Rights". Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Assisted Suicide". Liberal Democratic Party. 2009.
  9. ^ Arlington, Kim (20 June 2008). "Graeme Wylie's partner Shirley Justins guilty of manslaughter". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  10. ^ Australian Capital Territory v JT [2009] ACTSC 105 (28 August 2008), Supreme Court (ACT, Australia).
  11. ^ R v Mathews [2011] NSWSC 339 (28 April 2011), Supreme Court (NSW, Australia).
  12. ^ Alexander, Cathy (13 September 2010). "Pro-euthanasia TV ad ban 'a violation of free speech'". The Age. Retrieved 25 February 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Territories euthanasia bill sunk in Senate". SBS News. 15 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 – Second Reading". Australian Senate Hansard — 15 August 2018. Commonwealth of Australia: Senate. 15 August 2018. p. 4965-66.
  15. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ (refer to this article in The Australian), though note the article is behind a paywall.
  17. ^ "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Australia". The World Federation of Right to Die Societies. Retrieved 10 August 2014.
  18. ^ Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (Cth).
  19. ^ Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 (Cth) s 50A Laws concerning euthanasia.
  20. ^ Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cth) s 23 Matters excluded from power to make laws.
  21. ^ "Norfolk Island Act 1979". (Cth) s 19 Legislative power of Legislative Assembly. Repealed as part of the abolition of self-government on Norfolk Island by the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015 (Cth).
  22. ^ "NT ACT euthanasia law ban must go: senator". The West Australian. 2017-11-03. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
  23. ^ "Voluntary euthanasia law defeated by two votes". ABC News. 26 November 2013.
  24. ^ "Voluntary euthanasia: South Australian Parliament knocks back Death With Dignity euthanasia bill". ABC News. 17 November 2016.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ a b "Euthanasia: Victoria becomes the first Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying". ABC News. 29 November 2017.
  27. ^ "Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017" (PDF). 5 December 2017.
  28. ^ a b Close, Eliana; Willmott, Lindy; White, Ben P. (2019-02-25). "Victoria's voluntary assisted dying law: clinical implementation as the next challenge". The Medical Journal of Australia. 210 (5): 1. doi:10.5694/mja2.50043.
  29. ^ "Emotions high as assisted dying bill lands". 21 September 2017. Archived from the original on 21 September 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ "Euthanasia debate: NSW Parliament rejects bill on voluntary assisted dying". ABC News. 17 November 2017.
  32. ^ "McCusker drafted to write WA government's voluntary assisted dying law". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  33. ^ "Premier launches inquiry into the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 June 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link).
  35. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  36. ^ "Saves". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  37. ^ "WAVES - West Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  38. ^ "NTVES". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  39. ^ "Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  40. ^ "Welcome |". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ "Home - HOPE: No Euthanasia". Retrieved 2016-10-19.
  43. ^ Admin. "Euthanasia - Right To Life Australia". Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  44. ^ Sutherland, Irene. "Euthanasia - Catholic Church in Australia". Retrieved 2016-10-19.

Further reading[edit]