Voluntary Euthanasia becomes legal in Australian state

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

"This is a day for the advocates, this is a day for the patients and their families who have suffered for a very long period of time and have been waiting for this change," Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.

MELBOURNE: Victoria on Wednesday became first state in Australia to enact Euthanasia laws that would now allow terminally ill patients suffering from intolerable pain to legally ask their doctor for lethal drugs to end their lives.

The state's historic laws will be effective on Wednesday and under the scheme, terminally-ill Victorian adults in intolerable pain and with less than six months to live, or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases, and who meet 68 safeguards can request their doctor's help in dying.

Describing the new laws as a "compassionate approach" to the matter, state premier Daniel Andrews said that almost 120 doctors have so been trained or are enrolled in adequate training to operate under the new laws.

"This is a day for the advocates, this is a day for the patients and their families who have suffered for a very long period of time and have been waiting for this change," Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.

The premier said the scheme had already received about 100 inquiries.

''We anticipate in the first 12 months, based on overseas experience, around a dozen people that will access voluntary assisted dying," he said adding that number was projected to stabilise at about 100 or 150 people per year.

With 68 safeguards, the bill has been described as the most conservative in the world.

To access the scheme, the applicants must be a Victorian resident, aged over 18 and be assessed by two doctors to have a terminal illness with intolerable pain that will likely cause death within six months or 12 months if the illness is a neurodegenerative condition like motor neurone disease.

But while the laws are now in action, even if someone starts the process on Wednesday it will take at least 10 days to be completed.

It's been 18 months since parliament narrowly passed the laws during marathon sittings in 2017.

An independent review board and the coroner will keep track and monitor all deaths under the scheme.

Victoria is the only state in Australia to have euthanasia laws. However, Queensland and Western Australia are now considering enacting the legislation.

Other states in Australia have debated assisted dying in the past, but the proposals have always been defeated.

While the laws have a large amount of support, critics remain, and on Tuesday evening about 50 pro-life activists, including children, took their protest to steps of parliament house for a candlelit vigil.

Australia's Catholic leadership slammed the enactment of the euthanasia laws. In an open letter, four bishops described it as a "new and troubling chapter of health care" in the state.

"We cannot cooperate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness," the letter said.

"Pope Francis has encouraged ordinary Catholics everywhere to resist euthanasia and protect the old, the young and the vulnerable from being cast aside in a 'throw-away' culture," Peter Comensoli, the archbishop of Melbourne, and three other Victoria bishops added.

Euthanasia activists hailed the law but called it "too permissive and too stringent."

Philip Nitschke told Melbourne's The Age newspaper that the legal conditions for euthanasia are "too strict and onerous," and could result in "challenges to the law pressing to broaden access."

Christine Thornton, the widow of a 54-year-old Victorian man who was euthanised in a Swiss clinic four months ago, said the introduction of voluntary mercy-killing in Victoria should be the beginning, and not the end, of a public debate on a lack of end-of-life choices in Australia.

She said that four months ago, her husband could not find two doctors in Victoria who could confirm that his ailment would have killed him within a year.

Australia's sparsely populated Northern Territory in 1995 became the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. But the Australian Parliament overturned that law in 1997 after four people had been helped to die.

Related News