Father's plight ignites euthanasia debate

·3-min read

A father's fundraising effort to pay for his son's funeral has grounded a renewed push for the ACT's and Northern Territory's right to legislate for voluntary euthanasia.

Two ACT senators are leading the charge in the upper house to repeal laws preventing the territories from legislating on the issue.

David Whitsed's 39-year-old son Sam was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and the prognosis is "not good", he says.

Discussions with Sam, who is contemplating end of life choices, prompted independent ACT senator David Pocock to call on his colleagues to consider the reasons why people who live in territories aren't mature enough to debate the issue for themselves.

"No 39-year-old should have to contemplate the end of their life. But Sam is," Senator Pocock told parliament.

"No father should be fundraising for his son's funeral. But Sam's dad is.

"Why is it that by virtue of where we live in this country, we cannot participate in the same debates and decisions? Why are we considered less capable of having this discussion?"

Finance minister and Labor senator for the ACT Katy Gallagher told the Senate it was fundamentally unfair territories could not have the same discussion on the issue after every other state had debated and passed legislation on euthanasia.

"I understand many of my colleagues may be personally opposed to the issue of voluntary assisted dying and I acknowledge within my own community there are a diversity of views," Senator Gallagher said.

"But this bill is not about that. It's about whether every Australian regardless of where they live should have the same right to self-determination."

While personally in favour of euthanasia, Senate opposition leader Simon Birmingham spoke about the importance of splitting the issue of voluntary assisted dying and allowing territories the right to debate the issue.

"My body, my life, my choice. The very sound liberal philosophical approach, so long as those choices don't harm others," Senator Birmingham said.

"This bill we consider now will only enable the territories to play legislative catch-up.

"Rather than inventing their own safeguards the territories can now adopt the best of the safeguards and approaches already legislated across all six of the Australian states."

But Labor senator Deb O'Neill implored her colleagues to not distinguish the bill as one of territory rights, as opposed to a vote on euthanasia directly.

The voice of religious communities needed to be included in the debate, Senator O'Neill said.

"Freedom of religion means the state does not exclude religion and religious voices from the public square, particularly in relation to making law and public policy," she said, and that matters of life and rights were "absolutely intertwined" in the legislation.

"History will show this bill is about giving territories of this nation the green light to go ahead with enacting legislation that will make it legal for physicians to terminate the lives of their patients and to assist patients to take their own lives."

Having spoken with the chief ministers of both territories, no legislation on voluntary assisted dying has been drafted and both legislatures will consult widely and thoroughly, Senator Pocock said.

Speaking to reporters after Senator O'Neill's speech, Senator Pocock says while he respects the inclusion of religion in the debate, it couldn't be taken as a universal objection.

"We've seen a huge shift in Australia, the latest polling from the Australia Institute shows nearly 80 per cent of people who are religious still supported it," he said.

"It's about dignity. People with terminal illnesses actually having that choice in their life to die with dignity."

The repeal bill cleared the lower house 99 votes to 37 on August 3.