April 13, 2024

Australia’s Northern Territory ponders ‘assisted dying’

The government of Australia’s Northern Territory is surveying residents to assess the scope of a voluntary assisted dying law. 

All states have already legalised assisted dying, but the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory were impeded by a 1997 law which has since been amended to allow them to proceed. 

Territorians are being asked whether assisted dying should be allowed for mental illness, whether advance directives by dementia patients should be followed, whether the scheme should be restricted to people whose life expectancy is only six months, and whether it should be restricted to residents of the NT. 

The Northern Territory has about 250,000 people, of whom about one-third are indigenous. It has some of the worst health statistics in the country. 

Palliative care clinician Maria Cigolini, of the lobby group Health Professionals Say No, told The Australian that the questions asked in the survey were “biased and insensitive to many of the issues that are facing Territorians and First Nations people”.

“We already see in the Territory higher mortality rates, lower life expectancy, higher death rates from chronic disease, higher prevalence of mental health problems, high rates of alcohol abuse and smoking. There is a crisis at the moment with crime and incarceration, and also poor access to healthcare and social services in general … If you look at the First Nations suicide rates, they are twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians, and in general there is a higher mortality in this group at a younger age.

“So what we really need is not another way for these people to die, what we need is upstream strategies to promote resilience and healing and access to healthcare and social services.”

The results of the survey will be reviewed by a government panel on assisted dying. The panel is supposed to report to the government by July.