Tasmanian Greens introduce euthanasia bill

Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim introduced a private members bill on May 26. If passed, it will legalise euthanasia in the state.

When introducing the "Dying with Dignity Bill" to the state parliament, McKim said: "It's time for the law to reflect the values of compassion, respect for human dignity and freedom of choice which I believe are held by the overwhelming majority of Tasmanians."

A big majority of Tasmanians agree. A recent poll commissioned poll by Enterprise Marketing and Research Services found 78% of Tasmanians support euthanasia becoming legal.

McKim told the May 25 Hobart Mercury that the poll showed "it is beyond time that lawmakers caught up with public opinion on the issue". The poll indicated consistent support for voluntary euthanasia regardless of age, gender, area, or voting intentions.

Strong opposition to the bill has come from right-wing Christian groups. According a May 27 Mercury report, Right to Life Australia's national president Marcel White said the law would make Tasmania "the final stop for death tourists looking to end their lives by unnatural means".

Australian Christian Lobby Tasmanian director Nick Overton also condemned the proposed law.

In a May 25 statement, McKim explained that the bill contained safeguards including a mandatory "cooling-off period". The bill would make it a crime to coerce another person to euthanise.

Under the bill, euthanasia will be legal only for terminally ill people who can demonstrate they are "suffering intolerable pain". Furthermore, legal euthanasia would apply only for those first assessed by a psychiatrist and a palliative care expert to ensure they are capable of making an informed decision and that their suffering cannot be treated.

The Labor government and the Liberal opposition have promised to allow their MPs a "conscience vote" on the issue. But the Labor government is seeking to delay the passing of the bill.

On June 18, Labor successfully moved to refer the bill to a parliamentary committee. The committee won't report back to parliament until October.

In a June 10 statement, McKim attacked Labor's delaying tactics. "Delaying a debate will not make the decision any easier, but it will certainly condemn some terminally ill Tasmanians to an agonising and humiliating death, which they could be spared if my Bill is debated in a more timely manner."