The most undemocratic and unethical act passed by Australia's Parliament

A bill that passed through the Australian Parliament in 1997 to over-rule an act of the Northern Territory Parliament would have to be one of the most unethical acts of the Australian Parliament and almost certainly the most undemocratic act ever passed by the Australian Parliament.

This page written 2018/02/19, modified 2018/03/05 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David K. Clarke)

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The Euthanasia Laws Act, 1997, commonly known as the Andrews Bill, over-ruled an earlier act of the Northern Territory Government that permitted voluntary euthanasia. It followed from a private member's bill moved by Kevin Andrews.

How was it undemocratic?

It was undemocratic in two ways:
  • The people of the Northern Territory wanted the right to die with dignity and their parliament had given them that right. The Andrews Bill over-ruled that law and took away that right from the people of the territory.

  • The Euthanasia Laws Act contradicted the strongly held views and desires of the Australian people. Roy Morgan polls show a steadily increasing level of support for euthanasia from 1946 to 1996, with majority support from 1955 onward. This trend has continued in more recent years; opinion polls conducted over the years from 2007 to 2016 summarised in The Conversation showed that support for voluntary euthanasia ranged from 66% to 85%.

How was it unethical?

  • Philosopher and ethicist John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty: "The only part of the conduct of any one, for which [a citizen] is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." In other words, a person has an inalienable right to decide what to do with his own body and life; no-one has any right to force him or her to do otherwise. The Andrews Bill denied this inalienable right.

  • Most people would agree that it would be unethical to keep an animal alive if it was in great pain and suffering from an incurable disease or an injury. What is the point in prolonging life in that situation? It amounts to cruelty and in many countries anybody keeping an animal alive in great pain could be prosecuted for mistreating the animal. How is keeping people alive in pain when they would prefer an easy death any more ethical? The animal cannot give informed consent for euthanasia, a human can.

  • The primary responsibility of a Parliament is to represent the views and wants of the people whom the parliamentarians represent; as mentioned above, the Australian people had clearly expressed their desire to have the right of deciding when and how they should die. To make laws contrary to the desires of the people, without strong justification, is plainly unethical.

At the time of writing, February 2018, Kevin Andrews was still a member of the House of Representatives and was 'Father of the House'. He had been a minister under the Howard and Abbott Governments, but he was only a back-bencher at the time of writing.

I wrote on this subject some years ago on other pages on this site:

I have also written on ethical government and ethics in general.