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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 335


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:12 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table the explanatory memorandum and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This is a Bill for an Act to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, through which the national parliament overturned the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. It restores the legitimacy of the Northern Territory legislation, which established the right of a terminally ill person to request assistance from a medically qualified person to voluntarily terminate his or her life in a humane manner, to allow for such assistance to be given in certain circumstances without legal impediment to the person rendering the assistance, to provide procedural protection against the possibility of the abuse of the rights recognised in this Act, and for related purposes. Additionally, my bill will enable the Australian Capital Territory to introduce legislation for the rights of the terminally ill.

In 1995, the Parliament of the Northern Territory passed a law which reflected not only the will of Northern Territorians, but also the strongly held views of the majority of all Australians. Every opinion poll conducted over the last two decades has shown that approximately three-quarters of Australians support the concept of voluntary euthanasia.  A poll conducted by Roy Morgan in June 2002 found that seventy percent of those surveyed thought the law should be changed to allow a hopelessly ill patient to seek assistance from a doctor to commit suicide; and seventy- eight percent thought the law should be changed so that it is no longer an offence to be present at such a suicide. A Newspoll in February 2007 found that eighty percent of Australians believe that terminally ill people should have a right to choose a medically assisted death.  This poll also found that twenty two percent of respondents nationally have had a personal experience of a close relative or friend being hopelessly ill and wanting voluntary euthanasia. It has been consistently reported that each year hundreds of terminally ill people are assisted to an early and dignified death by compassionate medical professionals.

In the decade since the Euthanasia Laws Act was introduced here, the legal right to die with dignity has been available to the citizens of The Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon in the United States, Israel and Albania. In Switzerland, assisted suicide has been legal since 1918. Introduction of such laws has not led to a significant increase in the number of people choosing this option.  For example in The Netherlands after an initial increase the percentage of deaths as a result of euthanasia, the number has decreased from 2.6% in 2001 to 1.7% in 2005. In Oregon, according to the health department annual report, an average of 29 individuals has died each year as a result of their Death with Dignity Act - in a population of 3.5 million.

In 1995 the Northern Territory Assembly led the way in Australia by giving its citizens the option to end their suffering with dignity and medical support. In 1997, Canberra removed that right. This bill would redress that action.  It reflects the heartfelt views of the majority of Australians on this important issue.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


Senator BOB BROWN —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.