The Australian island of Tasmania is expected to become the third Australian state to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, after a bill passed the lower house of the state’s parliament Thursday night.
The law would apply to people over 18 with an advanced, incurable, irreversible condition expected to cause death within six months, and patients can opt out of the decision at any time, the Australian Associated Press reported.In a 16-6 vote March 4, the bill was passed by the House of Assembly. The governing Liberal Party members were given a conscience vote on the bill. All nine members of the opposition Australian Labor Party voted for the bill, as did both members of the Greens, who are crossbenchers.
Tasmanian lawmakers debated the bill, known as “End of Life Choices,” extensively this week. The state’s legislature has in the past rejected bills to legalize assisted suicide, most recently in 2013. The bill will require approval from the parliament’s upper house before it can become law.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legal in Victoria since June 2019, and in December 2019 Western Australia passed a law allowing the practices, which is expected to take effect in mid-2021. Australia is currently considering legalizing euthanasia nationwide.
One of the Tasmanian bill’s provisions states that medical practitioners who object to assisted suicide and euthanasia must provide the patient seeking it with the contact information for the state’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Commission. Anther provision would allow assisted suicide to be prescribed via telemedicine— a provision hotly debated in Tasmania’s parliament.
The Tasmanian branch of the Australian Medical Association told ABC News last year that they do not support the bill, or assisted suicide in general. “The bill as it stands is really physician-assisted suicide and we don’t support that … we don’t agree that a doctor should ever do any action with a primary purpose of ending a person’s life,” AMA Tasmania President Helen McArdle told the ABC.
Live and Die Well, a Tasmanian group that advocates for palliative care rather than assisted suicide, has argued against the bill on the grounds that it does not provide enough safeguards for the vulnerable. New South Wales rejected such a bill in 2017, as did the national parliament in 2016. The Northern Territory legalized assisted suicide in 1995, but the Australian parliament overturned the law two years later.
Catholic bishops in Australia have repeatedly written in support of palliative care as an alternative to assisted suicide and euthaniasia.
The state of Victoria reported more than ten times the anticipated number of deaths from assisted suicide and euthanasia in its first legal year.
Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board reported 124 deaths by assisted suicide and euthanasia since June 19, 2019, when the legalization of the precedure took effect, The Catholic Weekly reported. There were a total of 231 permits issued for the procedure that year. The state’s premier had publicly predicted only “a dozen” deaths by assisted suicide in the first year.
Last month, an Australian university found that the country has less than half the number of palliative care physicians needed to care for terminally-ill patients.
A study published by Australian Catholic University’s PM Glynn Institute revealed that the country only has 0.9 palliative care doctors per every 100,000 people. According to the ACU, health industry standards state there should be at least two doctors for this population.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s September 2020 letter Samaritanus bonus reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and recalled the obligation of Catholics to accompany the sick and dying through prayer, physical presence, and the sacraments.
Samaritanus bonus also addressed the pastoral care of Catholics who request euthanasia or assisted suicide, explaining that a priest and others should avoid any active or passive gesture which might signal approval for the action, including remaining until the act is performed.