‘Treated like second-class citizens’: NT still waiting as ACT passes voluntary assisted dying law

June 14, 2024
The Northern Territory is the last jurisdiction to have a voluntary assisted dying law, despite being the pioneer almost 30 years ago. Image: NT Voluntary Euthanasia Society

It is almost 30 years since the Northern Territory (NT) pioneered the original Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 long sought by terminally ill Territorians and their families.

Unable to shut the world-first people’s reform down, conservative opponents resorted to political bastardry, using federal powers to strip both the Australian Capital and Northern Territories of the democratic right to enact their own voluntary assisted dying (VAD) law.

The Commonwealth veto was only recently extinguished by the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022, made possible by a diverse cross bench.

That meant the ACT’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2023 was finally passed on June 5, with all Green MPs in support .

ACT Green and representative on the VAD Committee Inquiry Andrew Braddock, said: “The passage of this bill brings VAD out of the shadows, makes it safer, and reduces the trauma for all involved, ultimately to the benefit of both the individual and the community”.

VAD will become available in the ACT to eligible adults from November 2025.

The NT is now the only jurisdiction without VAD, but there has been some progress.

The NT government has held extensive public consultations, including taking submissions from advocacy groups and community meetings. It has assembled an Expert Advisory Panel to consider legalising VAD.

Consultations closed on March 1 and the panel’s report is due to be completed in July.

In the Northern Territory Voluntary Euthanasia Society submission to the Expert Advisory Panel, author Marshall Perron, a former Northern Territory Chief Minister, wrote: “The obvious starting point for the NT will be to combine the most progressive elements contained in each state law, which it appears the Australian Capital Territory has done, and then add new provisions which broaden access.”

He added the NT should aim to create “a law superior to the current Australian state laws by accommodating the needs of a broader range of prospective applicants, shortening timeframes and reducing complexity”.

This echoes the findings of Victoria’s recent mandatory five-year VAD review and highlights the need to address the ban on Telehealth by amending the Criminal Code.

With their new banner “We were first in the world, now we are last in Australia — let’s make it happen!” NT advocates and supporters are re-strategising following the ACT’s success.

Advocates have an opportunity in an election year to push end-of-life rights at a time when conservatives have lost their chokehold over the VAD debate.

In addition, much of the anti-VAD propaganda aimed at influencing MP’s has been disproven by VAD’s long-term operation in every other jurisdiction.

Steve Offner, communications director for Go Gentle Australia, told Green Left that whoever wins the NT election will have little choice but to support it.

“I simply can’t imagine any government allowing their own constituents to be treated like second-class citizens by being the only people in the country who can’t access voluntary assisted dying.”

However, not everyone is so optimistic.

Judy Dent, President of the Northern Territory Voluntary Euthanasia Society, is concerned the Expert Advisory Panel report will simply be ignored by the major parties and those that do support it won’t have the numbers.

“Both the Liberals and the Country Labor Party have refused to say whether they will heed the Expert Advisory Panel report … and only 11 of the current 25 MP’s support it,” Dent told Green Left.

The advisory panel report is due to be tabled in the Territory’s volatile political landscape at the end of July, just three weeks out from the August 24 election. 

Despite the toxic history, things have changed: VAD is now available across the nation. NT citizens will be hoping that this translates into having their democratic human right to compassionate end-of-life choices returned.

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