A long-running fight to allow the ACT and the Northern Territory the rights to legislate on voluntary assisted dying is gaining momentum.
This push has attracted renewed attention in recent months, as more Australian states have either legalised or are in the process of debating euthanasia laws.
Of the states, four have legalised voluntary assisted dying, including Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. Both the NSW and Queensland parliaments will debate laws later this year.
The territories have been banned from making laws on euthanasia for more than 24 years, after the federal government took away this power in the so-called Andrews Bill.
While the territories' right to decide and voluntary assisted dying are treated by many as separate issues, it's widely recognised the repeal of the Andrews Bill would lead to the ACT government bringing forward legislation to debate on voluntary assisted dying.
A repeal of the Andrews Bill doesn't mean that euthanasia is automatically legalised in the ACT.
The ACT government has reaffirmed that should the territory be given the right to make laws on euthanasia, this would not be rushed through, it would take at least 12 months.
What would happen first?
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said legislators would likely develop an exposure draft bill.
An exposure draft bill is one that is released for consultation prior to its introduction in a parliament.
Its often used as a mechanism to get stakeholder feedback on particular elements of a bill.
Based on that feedback, governments can amend legislation before it is introduced.
What happens when it is introduced to the ACT Legislative Assembly?
When the bill is introduced to the Assembly, it would likely be referred to a special select committee.
A committee comprises three backbenchers, often one from each party. Their job is to carefully scrutinise every element of the bill.
As part of this, the public can provide submissions detailing their view and concerns on the bill. Public hearings are also held where stakeholders are also questioned.
At the end of this process, the committee writes a report, based off submissions and public hearings, and presents this to the government.
The government can choose to accept or reject recommendations before it is debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
What could voluntary assisted dying legislation look like?
ACT ministers have said there is no draft legislation on the matter, and a bill would not be drafted until the territory is given the right to consider voluntary assisted dying.
Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne said the ACT would look to other states as a starting point when drafting legislation.
Victoria was the first state to pass voluntary assisted dying legislation. The laws were passed in November 2017 but did not come into place until June 2019.
Under the law, people have to meet a set of certain strict conditions. These include the person must have an advanced disease that would cause death within six months (or one year for a neurodegenerative condition), they are able to make a clear decision about voluntary assisted dying, are aged over 18 years and have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months.
Two doctors must also agree to a patient's request for assisted dying.
But while there is no draft legislation, both ACT Labor and the Greens have previously outlined safeguards that would be considered in their respective party platforms.
ACT Labor's platform for 2019-20 said it would support euthanasia legislation: "that provides that if a patient who has been counselled consistently requests assistance to die and two doctors are of the view that there is little or no prospect of substantial improvement of the patient's condition, then it should not be an offence for a doctor to assist the patient to die".
Would voluntary assisted dying legislation pass the ACT Legislative Assembly?
Based on the current ACT parliament, it is likely that legislation would pass.
For it to pass, 13 members would need to vote in favour.
The Canberra Liberals and Labor both allow conscience votes on the matter.
Voluntary assisted dying is a policy platform for the ACT Greens, meaning all six members would vote in favour of the legislation.
Labor allows a conscience vote on the issue but all 10 members are on the record as being in support of voluntary assisted dying, meaning it would exceed the majority at 16.
The individual votes of each Canberra Liberal MLA are less clear. ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has previously said she is "open minded" to legislation.
On the other hand, deputy opposition leader Giulia Jones has said she is opposed assisted dying but supports territory rights.
- This story is part of Our Right To Decide campaign. The Canberra Times is advocating for the ACT to have the right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying, like other states.
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