Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law

By Margaret Otlowski | Go to book overview

Preface

In the short time since the manuscript for this book was submitted for publication, there have been a number of important developments, particularly in relation to the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 which was enacted in the Northern Territory of Australia. In the course of this work, detailed attention is given to this Act which represents the first occasion that a legislature, anywhere in the world, has passed a law legalizing active voluntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.1 The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was passed on the 25 May 1995 and was due to come into force on 1 July 1996. However, within days of the Act's commencement, a case was brought in the Northern Territory Supreme Court by representatives from a coalition of doctors, churches and right to life groups (the 'Coalition Against Euthanasia'), challenging the validity of the legislation on the grounds that it is beyond the Northern Territory's legislative power. The matter was heard in July early 1996 by the Full Court of the Supreme Court2 and the court's decision was reserved. However, the Supreme Court refused an application for an injunction to prevent the legislation from commencing operation.

At about the same time, a member of the Federal Parliament of Australia, Liberal back-bencher Mr Kevin Andrews, announced his intention to introduce a Private Member's Bill to repeal the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act. By virtue of the Northern Territories' status as a Territory of Australia (as distinct from a State), this is constitutionally possible as the Federal Parliament has the power, by virtue of s 122 of the Commonwealth Constitution of Australia 1900, to make laws in respect of the Territories. As is noted in the text, after the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was first enacted, its opponents have made representations to the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, seeking his intervention to override the legislation. This invitation had, however, been declined. By contrast, the newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard ( Leader of the Liberal/National Party Coalition), has made clear his strong opposition to the Northern Territory euthanasia law and his willingness to support efforts to block the legislation. He has thrown his weight behind the Andrews proposal, stating his view that some issues are so important that they

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1
Legislation legalizing doctor-assisted suicide had been passed in the State of Oregon in the US in November 1994 by means of citizen initiated referendum, but the operation of this legislation has been held in abeyance as a result of a constitutional challenge to its validity.
2
Chief Justice Martin of the Supreme Court had referred the matter to the Full Court pursuant to s 21 of the Supreme Court Act 1979 (NT) on the grounds that any decision given by a single judge would inevitably be appealed to the Full Court.

-v-

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Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • Contents xv
  • Table of Cases xxi
  • Introduction 01
  • 1 - Euthanasia Under the Criminal Law 12
  • 2 - Suicide and Assisted Suicide 56
  • 3 - The Position in Practice: Doctors' Practices and the Law Applied 127
  • 4 - The Euthanasia Debate 187
  • 5 - The Changing Climate for Reform 257
  • 6 - Moves Towards Reform 333
  • 7 - The Netherlands 391
  • 8 - Options for Reform 456
  • Conclusion 494
  • Appendix 503
  • Select Bibliography 520
  • Index 553
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