The Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 (SA) and undue influence – inadequate protection of a voluntary decision?

Michaela Okninski1

1University of Adelaide, Adelaide Law School

Voluntary euthanasia is a controversial issue that has divided South Australian Parliament for over two decades now. While the issues contained within the euthanasia debate are vast, they can largely be reduced to arguments pertaining to a right to exercise individual autonomy and concerns about adequate regulation. Because euthanasia is such a severe and definitive form of medical treatment, protecting a voluntary decision is obligatory.  Indeed, protecting voluntariness is crucial as it justifies euthanasia and gives it legitimacy. Thus to achieve this objective, the legislative response to this pertinent issue has been to mandate comprehensive safeguards. However, the proposed legislative response to assessment of undue influence that serve to safeguard a voluntary decision have not been adequately addressed and require proper consideration.

Thus this paper argues for proper consideration of undue influence provisions in proposed euthanasia legislation in South Australia. First, a brief discussion on past euthanasia Bills in this jurisdiction will be provided. This discussion will primarily focus on undue influence safeguards in the current Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 (SA). Second, the complexity of the legal doctrine of undue influence will be addressed, highlighting the risks inadequate consideration of undue influence poses. This paper concludes proffering basic recommendations for proper inclusion of undue influence provisions in euthanasia legislation.

It is hoped that this paper will generate critical discussion on, and appreciation of, the complexity of the doctrine of undue influence. As the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 (SA) stands, it is doubtful whether undue influence provisions offer any meaningful protection. Until undue influence is given proper consideration, voluntariness is seriously undermined which disrupts the very foundation of voluntary euthanasia.


Michaela E. Okninski is a first year Master of Philosophy Candidate at the University of Adelaide and holds LLB/LP (Hons) qualifications from Flinders University (South Australia). Her research interests include voluntary euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, undue influence in medical treatment and consent and refusal of medical treatment.

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