Oral Presentation Australasian Association of Bioethics & Health Law and New Zealand Bioethics Conference

Preventing “bad deaths”: would the Australian “mercy killing” cases be avoided by legalising voluntary assisted dying? (1033)

Katrine Del Villar 1 , Lindy Willmott 1 , Ben White 1
  1. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

One argument in favour of legalising voluntary assisted dying (VAD) is that terminally ill people are ending their lives in “desperate, determined and violent ways” because there is no other way to end their suffering. It is asserted that these “bad deaths” can be prevented by introducing legislation permitting VAD.


Numerous criminal prosecutions have been brought in Australia against a person who has either assisted a loved one to commit suicide, or killed them, as an act of compassion and mercy, to put an end to their suffering. This paper reviews the Australian cases concerning assisted suicide and “mercy killings” against the eligibility criteria for VAD under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic).


The paper concludes that the deceased in many of the “mercy killing” cases would not have qualified for VAD under the Victorian legislation, for two main reasons. Firstly, VAD will only apply where a request to die is voluntarily made by a person with capacity. Several of the ‘mercy killing’ cases concern people who were not competent, by reason of dementia, severe stroke or disability. Secondly, a person will only be eligible for VAD if they are suffering from a terminal medical condition. The majority of the assisted suicide and “mercy killing” cases involved a request to die made by a person whose condition was not terminal. Because VAD is targeted at a narrow range of deaths, of those who are already dying, its legalisation will not prevent “bad deaths” from continuing to occur in Australia.