The head of the Catholic Church in the Northern Territory plans to fight the NT Labor government’s push to introduce euthanasia laws after it announced that it will establish an advisory panel on voluntary assisted dying. The panel would carry out community consultations and report to policymakers by the middle of next year.
NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyle stressed the advisory panel would examine the structure of how voluntary assisted dying policy could be developed, not whether it should be implemented. She explained: “The Northern Territory has an unusual context in that we have a small population across a vast area, and we have English as a second language for a percentage of our population.”
Ms. Fyles confirmed she personally supported voluntary assisted dying, but Territory Labor Party members would be allowed a conscience vote on the issue. “Voluntary assisted dying is a complex issue and one that many people feel passionate about. It can be a sensitive and confronting topic for many people so it is important that any future legislation is done through intensive and thorough consultation with all Territorians,” the Chief Minister asserted.
Former NT administrator Vicki O’Halloran and senior counsel Duncan McConnel have been appointed as co-chairs of the expert panel with applications open for other members. They will be chosen based on their expertise in end-of-life health care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural matters, justice, and social welfare policy.
Mr. McConnel said the Northern Territory should not be left behind on what he believed was an important question of human and individual rights related to end-of-life decisions. “The Northern Territory is a unique place, so meaningful consultation and consideration of this issue across diverse cultures and communities is essential,” he added.
Catholic Bishop of Darwin Charles Gauci told the Catholic Leader he will be supporting the “value of Christian life.” As the Catholic Church leader in the NT and president of its Council of Churches, he expects to be pointing out the pitfalls of assisted dying to the panel:
“I certainly won’t be watering anything down. I intend to have a respectful but clear and solid conversation about the whole issue and to share information about what the experience has been in other places where euthanasia has been legalised, not just in Australia but in other countries. In the end we surrender to God’s will. As Christians, we trust in God’s will. .. and in the end God has the final say when it’s time to go. We don’t make that decision ourselves,” Bishop Gauci stated.
The Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise euthanasia when a private members’ bill passed in 1995. It was quashed by the federal government two years later. Since then all six states have passed their own assisted dying laws and now Canberra’s passing of the Restoring Territory Rights Bill last December has cleared the way for the NT to do the same.