Professor Brian Owler

Assisted dying architect pushes to revive territory euthanasia rights

The architect of Victoria’s assisted dying scheme thinks it is time Australian territories were once again allowed to debate and potentially set their own euthanasia laws.

by Samantha Hutchinson | The Australian
November 24, 2017

Neurosurgeon Brian Owler, who took the lead drafting Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying scheme, has joined a growing push calling for the federal government to restore territory rights so the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory can debate assisted dying.

Professor Owler chaired an independent panel that devised the 66 recommendations that became the Victorian voluntary assisted dying scheme, which passed the state’s upper house on Wednesday.

He said the Victorian experience would trigger debate on assisted dying in other states and territories, but advised against a national one-size-fits-all approach, arguing that each jurisdiction needs to have its own debate and consultation on assisted dying.

“What Victoria has may well be a blueprint for other pieces of legislation, but it’s still a matter for each jurisdiction to make up their own mind and so it shouldn’t be a matter of just copying the legislation from Victoria, because everyone needs to look at it, ” Professor Owler told The Australian.

“People in other states and territories need to have their own discussions on this themselves, so they can contribute to the legislation.”

Following the Victorian upper house decision, federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale called for the federal government to “show leadership” on the issue, to ensure there was consistency among schemes around the ­country.

Professor Owler, a former Australian Medical Association president, said it was more important for the federal government to make sure that every state and territory could discuss the issue in the first place, a process that would require legislative changes to territory rights regarding euthanasia and assisted dying.

“At a federal level, it’s not so much providing legislation for the rest of the country but allowing the territories to have this debate for themselves, and to make up their own mind and whether or not this is something that should exist,” Professor Owler said.

Both the Northern Territory and the ACT have been unable to seriously debate end-of-life options since 1997, when Liberal MP Kevin Andrews used commonwealth powers to effectively overturn the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

At the time, Mr Andrews changed the Northern Territory’s constitution to strip the territory of its ability to pass any laws permitting euthanasia. The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 then extended the restriction to the ACT and Norfolk Island.

Senator David Leyonhjelm has lodged a private member’s bill

Senator David Leyonhjelm has lodged a private member’s bill to restore territory rights regarding assisted dying and euthanasia, which he will bring forward for debate again in January 2018.

Senator Leyonhjelm said the passage of the bill in Victoria had injected momentum into a national debate on the issue.

“This issue will not go away,” the told The Australian.
“Suicide has been legal for decades, yet governments continue to intrude into this most fundamental personal decision when it comes to assisted suicide.”

He said his bill did not propose to make assisted dying and euthanasia a certainty in the territories, but would at least open up debate on the issue.

“My bill would not automatically make assisted suicide legal in the territories but it would overturn the Andrews bill and allow the parliaments of the territories to come to their own conclusions, like people in other states,” Senator Leyonhjelm said.