Vol 12, Issue 3
Late last month, the Victorian Premier accepted recommendations made by an independent investigation into proposed legislation legalising assisted dying. If passed, Victoria will be the first state to give severely medically unwell people a choice to determine when and how the end of their life plays out. The move is bold, but necessary, and supports the numerous claims we make as Australians about one social concept yet to be realised – progressive civil rights and pro-choice.
Australia has a long history declaring that we uphold all sorts of inclusive social mores and values. We have somewhat of a personal brand founded upon telling the rest of the world we uphold democracy, free speech and practise the following mantras:
Welcoming people from all walks of life. Encouraging diversity. Migration without much obstacle. Opening borders, albeit in waves, and encouraging ‘multiculturalism’.
Idyllic? Yes. Achievable? Not yet.
Because Australia has many historical and contemporary exceptions to this branding that render some of the aforementioned wants and needs unobtainable. Lack of marriage equality. Systemic maltreatment of indigenous peoples and communities. Class divide, just to name a few.
Now, however, Victorians are on the brink of the first steps of change thanks to assisted dying. And the timing could not be better. This is one topic that thankfully hasn't been done-to-death by the media. Nor is it a buzzword or flavour of the moment that people throw around in social discourse or in essays to try and snag a decent mark. The proposal is fresh and speaks to all members of society, because death (from one cause or another) is the one certainty that we all share in common.
Assisted dying, thus, upholds the right for someone to have a dignified end to life. That’s as fundamental as the right to life itself. It observes the right for someone to not have to suffer through months of years of physical and psychological pain when illness overruns the body and mind. It's a right that, arguably, is fundamental to having autonomy over your own course and quality of life, and that is why it needs to be passed.
If you’ve ever visited someone in hospital who is terminally ill, you’ll know watching them deteriorate when there is nothing you can do is debilitating. And we’re not just talking about people of advanced age either. Childhood cancers are a very real thing. Toddlers with brain tumours, primary school children with terminal blood conditions. Your child. Your younger sibling. Death by terminal illness isn’t ageist. If there’s nothing natural therapies or medical science can do to help, just how humane would it be to let these people suffer until the bitter end?
That is why this move is welcomed, seeing government acting on independent advice with haste, rather than stalling to gauge election vibes. If Victoria passes this legislation, it will have set a standard for being as progressive as popular discourse claims we are.
Indirectly, this legislation could pave the way for change in other contemporary social issues too. Because like it or not, the people of Australia are not solely operating on Catholicism and traditionally conservative values anymore. We live in a social climate where people demand autonomy over their lives, without political or religious pressure on how theirs’ start, continue, or end.
Victoria’s attempt to broaden social rights, whilst accounting for any ethical and malpractice issues that may arise, is laudable. Hopefully, assisted dying become a federal legislatively protected right for those who are ill and deserve it most – our loved ones.
Nathan Grech is a first-year JD student
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