Leyonhjelm's Fatal Assisted Suicide Bill

When the Senate resumes it will devote three days from 14 to 16 August to debating and voting on an assisted suicide bill introduced by libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm.

Senator Leyonhjelm believes “in the right of individuals to end their lives painlessly at a time of their choosing”.

As a first step towards achieving liberal assisted suicide laws throughout Australia, the Leyonhjelm Bill seeks to undo the excellent work done by the Senate in March 1997 when it ended the deadly euthanasia experiment in the Northern Territory and supported provisions preventing the territories from passing laws permitting euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The Leyonhjelm Bill claims to restore to the two self-governing territories - the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory – an alleged "right" to make laws permitting that form of intentional killing known as euthanasia.


This assumes that there can be a right to make such a law.


A similar question arose in the United States in the 1850s as the debate on slavery came to the fore.


In a series of famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and rival candidate for the Senate for the state of Indiana, Judge Steven Douglas, it became apparent that Douglas claimed not to support slavery – while arguing that new territories admitted to the union should have the right to decide whether to be slave or free territories.


Lincoln rejected this approach to slavery, saying:

"Judge Douglas declares that if any community wants slavery, they have a right to have it.  He can say that logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong.”


Similarly, if laws permitting euthanasia or assisted suicide are always wrong - inherently unsafe and unjust - there can be no right to make such a law.


A law permitting euthanasia or assisted suicide would make it legal for a doctor to intentionally kill a patient or to give the patient a prescription for a lethal dose of poison.


As Paul Keating explains such laws can never be made in such a way as to protect vulnerable people from being wrongfully killed


One significant factor in the Senate's vote in 1997 was the universal opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide from indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Senator Leyonhjelm does not appear to have consulted these communities before promoting his Bill that could see euthanasia and assisted suicide reintroduced to the Northern Territory.


Laws permitting euthanasia are always unsafe and unjust.


The Senate would do right to reject Senator Leyonhjelm's Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide) Bill 2015,  which can have only one purpose: to pave the way for one or both of the territories to pass a law permitting that form of intentional killing known as euthanasia or permitting assisted suicide.


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