On 25 May 1995, the Northern Territory of Australia became the first place in the world to pass right to die legislation. The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act lasted 9 months before being overturned by the Australian Federal Parliament. Today, Voluntary Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide are illegal in all states and territories of Australia.
The only end-of-life laws that exist are a patchwork of Advance Medical Directive and Power of Attorney laws, none of which allow a person to ask for active assistance to die. These laws operate on a state-by-state basis. Your access to these laws depends entirely on where you live will.
Advance Medical Directives
An Advance Medical Directive is a legal document that is signed in advance to extend a person’s absolute right to refuse medical treatment into circumstances where the ability to communicate is lost. Thus even if that person is unconscious or demented, the AMD ensures the person’s wish to refuse treatment is respected.
The AMD document usually contains a list of the various treatments that a person has decided would be unacceptable to them. In Australia, an AMD document can be drawn up by anyone. What is most important, though, is whether the document has any legal status. Not all States and Territories have laws which make AMDs legally binding.
Generally speaking AMDs will not be recognised by paramedics. In States where there are laws, medical professionals are legally obliged to adher to AMDs. However, if they do not, penalties are remarkably soft.
Appointment of a Medical Power of Attorney, Agent or Proxy
Another equally important strategy to ensure your voice is heard if you are unable to communicate is the appointment of a person to make medical decisions for you. This legislation also varies depending on the state in which you live. A Medical Power of Attorney carries out the same function as an AMD document.
This person’s job is to ensure that if we lose the ability to communicate, our choice of acceptable medical treatments is respected. It is often much more effective to have an articulate person attempting to implement your wishes than a passive piece of paper.
State/ Territory Laws are listed below.