Euthanasia reforms a case of “when not if” across Australia, say QUT law experts

22-Nov-2018 1:30 PM

EMBARGOED – 0001 AEDT Friday 23rd November 2018

Assisted dying reforms throughout Australian jurisdictions will steadily but surely take place in the coming years, say QUT law experts.
QUT’s Professor Lindy Willmott and Professor Ben White from the Australian Centre for Health Law Research have conducted comprehensive reviews of end-of-life law across Australia.

Their latest research is being published in Australian Health Review.

The journal article, to be publicly released Friday 23rd November, details the growing international trend to permit voluntary assisted dying, the evidence about how such laws operate and changes to the domestic political environment.

Professor Willmott said sustained efforts to change the law Australia-wide to permit voluntary assisted dying (VAD) would be a case of “when not if”.

“There is an increased willingness for politicians to contemplate reform which is in keeping with community expectations,” Professor Willmott said.
  • In Victoria, legislation passed in 2017 allowing assisted dying will come into effect mid next year.
  • Western Australia will introduce a Bill next year to allow a conscious vote for MPs to allow voluntary assisted dying.  
  • Queensland has established a review to consider voluntary assisted dying to report back in November 2019.
  •  South Australia’s last Bill in 2016 was defeated by a single vote in its lower house of Parliament.
  • Tasmania’s most recent Bill in 2017 was not close to passing although an earlier attempt had been.
  • New South Wales’ last Bill in 2017 was defeated by a single vote in its Upper House of Parliament.
  • The Northern Territory and ACT need the Federal Senate to overturn the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 which prohibited territories from legalising VAD.
Professor White said there had been complex factors over the past three decades that made reform in Australia difficult.

He said there had been 39 Bills specifically aimed to legalise VAD in Australian jurisdictions between 1995 and 2015.

Since then, a further seven bills had been tabled.

“A lot has changed in Australia and globally since the Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise euthanasia in 1995,” he said.

“Those laws were overturned in 1997 by the Commonwealth using its constitutional powers over Territories.”

He said sustained efforts to change the law to permit VAD was likely to continue.

“Since 2016, a higher percentage of bills had been close to passing.

“Victoria had broken through a wall with its 2017 legislation to permit an adult with an advanced incurable disease to seek assistance to die and other states are closely watching.”


Internationally, parts of Western Europe and North America permit voluntary assisted dying.

Professor Willmott said 37 million Canadians now have voluntary assisted dying as an end-of-life option and almost one in five Americans live in a state where VAD is lawful.

“It is difficult for Australian politicians to avoid the reality of international developments,” she said.

The researchers were instrumental in developing QUT’s End of Life Law in Australia to help provide clarity for doctors, their patients and families.

A pdf of the journal article is attached.

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