ACT considers minimum assisted dying age of 14

4 minute read

‘Mature’ minors could be able to access voluntary assisted dying in the ACT under new legislation.

The Australian Captial Territory is considering lowering the minimum age for voluntary assisted dying to 14, following the release of a community consultation report. 

The report surveyed nearly 3000 people in the ACT and was undertaken to inform the ACT government as they prepare a bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying (VAD).  

Around half of the survey participants said that a person undertaking VAD should not have to be “18 years or over”. 

Minister for Human Rights Tara Cheyne told The Australian that she was considering lowering the VAD minimum age to 14 after hearing “very clearly from the community” that 18 [years] is considered an “arbitrary limit”.  

“Young people under the age of 18 can also experience intolerable end of life suffering through terminal illnesses, and that they should have the same choices adults,” she said. 

Ms Cheyne also told the ABC that the law recognises that as children age, and particularly in their later teen years, they develop maturity.  

Opposition spokesman for Home Affairs James Paterson expressed his “instinctive discomfort” with the notion of minors being eligible for VAD services, saying he believes “euthanasia can never be made completely safe”.  

He told Sky News that “one wrongful death under a euthanasia scheme” was one too many.  

“The risk of that increases the lower age you get to…I would hate to think of a young person being put to death wrongfully under a euthanasia scheme as a result of the ACT changes,” he said. 

Casey Haining, researcher at the Australian Centre for Health Law Research, said that the classification of “mature minor” was central to the ACT government’s consideration of age limits, and must not be presumed. 

“Assessors [for VAD] must have the confidence that the minor has the capacity to be able to make that specific decision,” she said. 

She said that lowering the age limit “might be an option… on the basis of autonomy” if there were safeguards and supports put in place, as well as an additional assessment of a mature minor. 

Participants in the community consultation report said that they wanted the ACT legislation to include strict eligibility criteria, a thorough request process, the provision of support and information and an independent oversight body. 

These safeguards reflect those currently adopted in other Australian states under what is called the Australian model. 

“We also heard support for some adjustments to the Australian model, building on the experiences of other jurisdictions,” Ms Cheyne said.  

“This includes in relation to age, timeframe to death, and the role of health professionals.” 

Ms Cheyne also indicated that ACT legislation would focus less on a person’s expected timeframe for dying but more on their state of suffering. This is different to some other states that require a timeframe for expected death to be between six and 12 months. 

“There are some people who receive a terminally ill diagnosis, but it may be several years until they are given a prognosis that they have less than 12 months, or less than six months, to live…it’s much more about the definition of someone who is terminally ill and is suffering,” she said. 

Ms Haining said that safeguards implemented in Australia could emulate those imposed internationally.  

VAD for minors is lawful in The Netherlands and Belgium. In Belgium minors are eligible if they meet criteria such as being in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical suffering which will, within a short period of time, result in death.  

Additional criteria includes that the minor’s suffering must be purely physical, their presumed death will occur in a ‘short time’, and that legal representatives and physicians are satisfied that the minor is capable of assessing their condition and making the decision.   

The ACT government aims to introduce a Bill to legalise VAD later this year, which will bring the territory into line with Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. 

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×