“The Assembly has no power to make laws permitting or having the effect of permitting… the form of intentional killing of another called euthanasia (which includes mercy killing) or the assisting of a person to terminate his or her life.”
It’s been 25 years since the Andrews bill passed in the federal government, disallowing Australian territories from making legislation to legalise voluntary assisted dying. It’s been 17 years since CEO of Humanists Australia Mary-Anne Cosgrove illegally helped her sick mother take her own life in Canberra. This year, the ACT is no closer to overturning the bill and achieving this legislative right, despite all parties in the ACT Government being in favour of doing so.
The Andrews bill – originally introduced by Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews in 1996 – was created to stop legislation known as the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 in the Northern Territory, that gave certain patients the ability to end their life at their request. Andrews believed that the territories were too small to make this decision alone, and his bill passed in 1997 under the official name of the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, with 38 votes to 33.
States in Australia have the right to create legislation and pass laws without overseers, while territories can have any legislation altered or revoked completely by the Commonwealth Government. Out of the six Australian states that have the right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying, five of them have done so; Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia, and Queensland.
There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to revoke the bill in parliament, including in 2008 and 2010 by members of the Greens. In 2018, parliament came close to overturning the bill in the Senate, but was unsuccessful in a 36 to 34 vote when ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja voted against Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s plea to give the territory it’s rights. Currently, there is another bill being discussed in the Senate, but it only changes the rules for the Northern Territory, and not the ACT.
Back in late 2003, Mary-Anne Cosgrove’s mother was experiencing debilitating chronic back pain and an extreme case of emphysema, and nothing seemed to be helping her. Due to the lack of legislation around voluntary assisted dying in the ACT, and the territory’s inability to do anything about it, Mary-Anne’s mother took matters into her own hands. With the help of Mary-Anne and her father, her mother took her own life, after the family could see no alternative.
“I knew that assisting suicide was against the law, but by my humanist ethics, it’s sometimes more ethical to break the law and suffer the consequences than to obey it,” Ms Cosgrove says.
This is her story.