A hard-fought bid to legalise voluntary euthanasia in Tasmania has been narrowly defeated, with the Premier Lara Giddings and Greens Leader Nick McKim vowing to reintroduce the bill next year.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation was voted down by just two votes, 13 to 11, in a marathon debate on Thursday night that saw all Liberal MPs and three Labor MPs vote against the bill in which all politicians were granted a conscience vote.
The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Labor MP Michael Polley voted on the floor of the house, ensuring the bill’s defeat.
Labor MP Brenton Best said he could not support the bill because the legislation did not ensure protection for the vulnerable, especially the elderly.
Elise Archer, Liberal MP, told the lower house she believed the bill would increase elder abuse and Tasmanian Attorney-General Brian Wightman said he could not confidently say the bill protected “all vulnerable people in all situations.”
The joint Private Members Bill, co-sponsored by Ms Giddings and Mr McKim, would have legalised voluntary assisted suicide for those with “advanced incurable and irreversible medical conditions” for which there are no treatment options and no effective pain relief. Under the proposed model, the patient would be required to make three requests to their doctor for assistance to end their lives over a period of at least 10 days, and be assessed by two medical professionals. The patient could rescind their request at any time.
Following the bill’s defeat, Premier Giddings expressed her disappointment over the result and reiterated her position that the legislation could have operated safely and effectively in Tasmania.
“The bill was professionally drafted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel following extensive research of international models and broad consultation with the community, including the medical profession,” she said.
Ms Giddings said she was confident voluntary assisted dying reform in Australia was closer as a result of the debate and said the issue would not go away.
A network of senior disability rights advocates, Lives Worth Living, said the legislation opened the door to the euthanasia of people with disabilities because it was not confined to terminal illness.
The group also held significant concerns about arrangements for consent under the bill, especially for people with communication barriers or with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
In a detailed critique of the bill, Dr Jeremy Prichard, senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania’s faculty of law and Hannah Graham, associate lecturer in sociology and criminology and a research assistant in the faculty of law at UTAS, said Giddings and McKim did not provide “a compelling evidence-based case for changing the law.”
They said in places where assisted suicide is legalised, there is evidence of safeguards being ignored and evidence of vulnerable people being euthanased without their explicit request and consent. They concluded that the risks did not justify proceeding with the proposed reform.
This is the second time a bill has been put to a vote in the Tasmanian Parliament. The first was defeated in 2009, 15-7.
The Tasmanian defeat last week follows a failed attempt in the New South Wales Parliament in May led by former NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann to pass similar legislation.
In 1995, the Northern Territory’s legislative assembly passed a bill to legalise voluntary assisted suicide, but the legislation was later overturned by the Federal Government.