At 7.03 pm on Wednesday 15 August the Senate rejected the Leyonhjelm Assisted Suicide Bill by 36-34 votes, which would have paved the way for assisted suicide to be legalised in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT).
With Senators from all parties having a conscience vote on the Bill – a clear sign that it was essentially about assisted suicide rather than territories rights – the outcome of the vote was difficult to predict, with several Senators changing their position as the vote drew closer.
As the Senate commences debating the Leyonhjelm Assisted Suicide Bill, it should heed the wise words of Professor Margaret Somerville who point out that the international experience demonstrated that euthanasia was being used as a cheaper alternative to psychiatric and palliative care and that it would be a social tragedy if we allow assisted suicide legislation to pass.
Paul Keating, former Prime Minister, has warned that any law permitting assisted suicide would undermine the "civilisational ethic that should be at the heart of our secular society". He observes that once such a law is passed "the expectations of patients and families will change. The culture of dying, despite certain and intense resistance, will gradually permeate into our medical, health, social and institutional arrangements. It stands for everything a truly civil society should stand against. A change of this kind will affect our entire community not just a small number of dying patients."
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.