The decision by the Victoria Parliament to endorse assisted dying legislation has been welcomed by right to die campaigners around the world. For many, what has been called the world’s “most restrictive” assisted dying legislation will be a small step forward. But the Melbourne vote is a landmark. Australia joins the US, Canada and numerous European nations in recognising that the decision to die at a time and place of one’s own choosing is a fundamental human right.
From mid 2019, those living with severe pain in the Australian state will have the right to request medication to end their lives. The new law comes with 68 safeguards. It will only be available to those with less than six months to live (or 12 months for those with conditions like MS and Motor Neurone Disease) and the right will only be available to those who have lived in the State for more than 12 months.
Victoria’s decision is important and what has been endorsed there, is likely to be adopted by other Australian States. Already Western Australia and New South Wales have begun the process of introducing assisted dying legislation. Between 70 and 80 per cent of Australians support the idea that terminally ill people who are suffering unbearably should be able to ask a doctor to help them end their life quickly and painlessly. The majority of Australians will not accept that what is legal in Melbourne is illegal in Perth, Sydney or indeed Canberra.
Neither will Victorians support so called death tourism where people travel and take up residence in order to access the right to die. We already know the iniquity involved in exporting the problem of dying to other nations, states and territories. This is the current situation in the UK for a minority of physically able and wealthy individuals, who have the option of travelling to Switzerland.
Human rights are not territorial. If a citizen of Victoria has the right to determine the time and place of their death, how can it be morally justifiable to deny that right to citizens of Scotland, the UK or any other nation?
Attempts to pass assisted dying legislation in Scotland and the UK have fallen largely on the argument that passing such laws would create a slippery slope, leading to the premature deaths of the weak and vulnerable, without their consent. It is entirely implausible to believe that Victorians care less for the welfare of the weakest and most vulnerable members of their communities. If Victoria can frame legislation which respects the right to life and the freedom to choose a dignified death, is it beyond the wit of Scottish and UK politicians to do the same?