December 9, 2023

Assisted dying round-up

New Zealand, Massachusetts, Portugal, Austria, Ireland, Tasmania

Assisted suicide is on the legislative agenda in a number of jurisdictions. Here is the latest news on a few of them.

New Zealand. Kiwis will vote in a referendum on voluntary euthanasia on October 17. Parliament backed legislation earlier in the year, but the final decision rests with the public. Whether the next government is led by Jacinda Arderns’s Labour Party or the Nationals, the referendum will be binding. In the event of a “yes” vote, the End of Life Choice Act will come into force in October 2021.

Massachusetts. Assisted suicide is legal in nine US states and the District of Columbia. Some political observers believe that the Bay State could become the tenth. The state legislature’s Committee on Public Health has approved an End-of-Life Options Act, a bill which was first introduced in 2011 modelled on Oregon’s law. However, it appears that the bill's tacticians believe that it should not be brought to the whole legislature during the coronavirus pandemic. “If we don’t get it done this year we have a good shot, a better shot, to getting it done next year. It is not a negative indicator that a bill doesn’t get done in a particular session,” Senator William N. Brownsberger, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Independent.

Portugal. Earlier this year the Portuguese parliament passed measures which would permit euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, they have been held up by an appeal for a referendum on the issue. The details of the referendum will be worked out in Parliament early in October.

Austria. Four people have applied to the Austrian Constitutional Court questioning the constitutionality of a ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide in the country’s penal code. The court should hand down a decision before the end of the year.

Ireland. A controversial private member’s bill which would legalise assisted suicide will probably be delayed until next year to allow an Oireachtas (parliamentary) committee to study the issue. At the moment, the Oireachtas is in the middle of a debate which will be resumed on October 7.

Tasmania. The parliament of the Australian state of Tasmania is still debating the merits of assisted dying. Sponsored by upper house member Mike Gaffney, an independent, this bill is the fourth in ten years. Previous bills failed in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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