Uncovering the Holes in Tasmania’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, 2013

A few weeks back, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, 2013 was tabled in parliament as a Private Members Bill by Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings and Tasmanian Greens Leader Nick McKim.  A bill that, if passed, will allow those who meet certain eligibility criteria to be prescribed and receive a lethal injection.  It will be debated early next week.

Good news I bring today.

A very smart woman and a very smart man released their research paper yesterday and it rips holes in this death bill, bringing well-referenced, evidence-based critique to the table.


The paper (Voluntary Euthanasia and ‘Assisted Dying’ in Tasmania: A Response to Giddings and McKim, 2013) is authored by Hannah Graham and Jeremy Prichard:

Hannah Graham is an Associate Lecturer in the Sociology and Criminology Program in the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, and a research assistant in the Faculty of Law at the University of Tasmania.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Criminology and Corrections, and is currently completing her PhD at UTAS.

Jeremy Prichard is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania.  He holds a PhD in Law.  Dr Prichard teaches criminal law and conducts research in criminological fields. 

They have earned a bit of clout, I’m sure you would agree.  The 26-page report makes compelling reading and, if you are yet to form an opinion as to whether Tasmania should join the very few jurisdictions around the world that have upheld euthanasia within law, I strongly recommend you brew a coffee and give yourself an hour or two to soak up the revelations within this document.  For those without such a luxury, here is an excerpt from the conclusion:

“A primary concern about Giddings and McKim’s (2013) paper is that it appears to assess available evidence optimistically and from the perspective of euthanasia advocates. Our paper has attempted to explain that the few jurisdictions that have legalised euthanasia have complex legacies and fallible safeguards. It is unclear why these complexities have been understated in the Giddings and McKim (2013) paper.

Like others, we hold grave concerns about the mixture of roles and social messages entailed in legalising euthanasia, including those relating to the doctor-­‐patient relationship as well as perceptions of Tasmanians with physical disabilities. We are equally concerned about the extension of eligibility requirements (e.g bracket creep), especially through reinterpretations of terms including ‘poor quality of life’ and ‘unbearable suffering’.

Based on the evidence and experiences presented in this paper, we conclude that there are unjustifiable risks in proceeding with the euthanasia law reform proposed by Giddings and McKim (2013). Irrespective of the success or otherwise of their bid, much more research is needed to become better informed about the issues, processes and practices discussed in this paper, and how they can be best understood in the Tasmanian and Australian context. In the interests of fostering further knowledge exchange, we hope that others take up analysis and discussion of what we have presented here. More diverse voices and a wider range of community stakeholders need to be heard on this important issue.” 

It addresses the complexities of understanding the vulnerable state of people living with disability and old age, the potential for elder abuse and even gender risks in situations of prolonged and ingrained domestic abuse.  Read on and you will be confronted by evidence for the oft-uttered fear of ‘slippery slope’, ‘net widening’ and ‘bracket creep’.  It can happen – it already is happening in places like Belgium and The Netherlands.  And that means it can happen here too, if this bill is given air.

In conclusion I will quote one Tasmanian who courageously stands for life in a very public way, even when our government is bent on a social agenda of death.

“This Bill is a direct threat to the lives of Tasmanians, particularly the sick and elderly.  This Bill embraces a philosophy of human value defined by convenience and personal capacity.  It stands against the responsibility of societies and governments to implement compassionate, timely, and effective care for those who are unwell or disabled in some way.”

Bishop John Harrower.

If you want to stay up-to-date with the news on this issue, LIKE the REALdignitytas Facebook page and check out the Australian Christian Lobby’s website.  More great reading here: an opinion piece by Hannah Graham as published in The Advocate.