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Voluntary assisted dying legislation must be more ethical than recent police tactics

By David Swanton - posted Tuesday, 25 July 2023

Consider discrimination based on age. The ACT Government has decided to reject the views of the states and increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years. That would reduce the suffering of some children who would otherwise be tried as adults. It would be inconsistent to develop policy concerned with the welfare of children in the criminal justice system while being indifferent to the plight of all terminally ill children who are suffering unbearably. All people, including suffering children and infants (with parents and guardians acting on the advice of doctors), should have the right to access VAD.

It is not just young children that are the problem for ACT policymakers. Dementia is the leading cause of death for women aged 75 and over and for Australians 85 and over. Advance care directives, which are legal now, should be extended in scope to allow the option of VAD for people who want to avoid being ravaged by dementia. It can be done and has been done overseas. Without VAD advance care directives, people might choose to acquire legal lethal substances. Without advance care directives, they realise that if they are to use their substances, that 'it's always too early to act until it's too late to act'.

ACT Government must not discriminate

The responsible ACT minister, Tara Cheyne, has been a strong advocate of legalised VAD, like Michael Moore and Caroline Le Couteur in previous legislative assemblies. We are hopeful that the ACT can enact compassionate, ethical, and non-discriminatory VAD legislation. Its VAD legislation must be consistent with its VAD policy objective, but given it is seemingly developing discriminatory policy, it doesn't seem to have an objective. Without a policy objective, the ACT Government won't know what it is doing.


If the ACT's VAD legislation does discriminate on the degree or type of suffering, life expectancy, age or residency and places doctors as arbiters of what is right for individuals, then the ACT Government will have to accept that people will continue to acquire legal lethal drugs. The police must then appreciate that being in the possession of legal lethal substances does not require welfare checks. It's just a reflection that VAD legislation is not meeting the needs of Canberrans.


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The Ethical Rights and Exit ACT submission to the ACT VAD consultation process is available here.

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About the Author

David Swanton is an ethicist, PhD scientist and director of Ethical Rights. He is also ACT Chapter Coordinator for Exit International.

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