Euthanasia law passed in Aussie state of Victoria

Most Australians welcome move but it has sparked a debate on the rights of terminally ill

The majority of Australians have welcomed a decision by the state of Victoria to legalise euthanasia - a controversial move that has sparked an emotive debate about the rights of terminally ill patients.

After a series of dramatic parliamentary debates, including three all-night sessions, the state Parliament passed legislation to allow assisted suicide from June, 2019.

"I hope this... will give people hope... that a good death will, in fact, be possible for people who are currently enduring difficult, difficult ends of life," Health Minister Jill Hennessy said on Wednesday.

Victorian resident Jen Barnes, who suffers from a terminal cancer, said it would be a "comfort" to know that she had the option to end her life and avoid suffering.

Speaking to ABC Television, she said: "I just want to know that it's there, the option is there."

The move by Victoria - the country's second-most populous state - is strongly supported by most Australians. Opinion surveys have found that more than 70 per cent of Australians believe terminally ill people should be allowed to choose to die.

The scheme - described by the government as the most conservative in the world - will allow assisted suicide for people with less than six months to live and who are suffering intolerably.

 

Requests to undergo euthanasia will be subject to numerous checks by doctors. Patients must be above the age of 18, and have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months.

They must also be capable of making decisions, and must make two formal requests.

Doctors will not be allowed to propose euthanasia, and will be allowed to object to being involved.

But the implementation of the scheme still faces challenges.

Some hospitals are still deciding whether to join the scheme, with Catholic healthcare providers saying they will not allow euthanasia.

The government has not decided which types of drug to use, but this will be resolved by a panel, which will also oversee training of doctors, nurses and others involved.

Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services expects that most assisted suicides would take place in homes rather than hospitals. A spokesman, speaking to The Age daily, said: "This means that they will be assisted by their general practitioner, or family doctor or other specialist of their choice."

But critics said Victoria has allowed a form of state-sanctioned suicide, and that some ill people could be coerced into ending their lives, especially by family members.

The opposition included interventions from former prime ministers Paul Keating and Tony Abbott.

Mr Keating, a former Labor leader, said the Bill crossed an ethical threshold.

"No matter what justifications are offered for the Bill, it constitutes an unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence and the irrevocable sanctity that should govern our understanding of what it means to be human," he wrote in an article for Fairfax Media on Oct 19.

The Australian Medical Association also opposed the euthanasia Bill, saying surveys showed that most Australian doctors do not support euthanasia.

On Monday, the association's president, Dr Michael Gannon, urged the state of Western Australia, which is exploring euthanasia, to oppose the move.

In Australia's largest state of New South Wales, the Upper House of Parliament held a debate on legalising euthanasia last month, and narrowly defeated the Bill.

The Northern Territory briefly allowed euthanasia in the 1990s, but the law was annulled by the federal government, which can effectively override laws in Australian territories, but not those in states such as Victoria.

Internationally, euthanasia is legal in several European countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, in Canada, and California and Oregon in the United States.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2017, with the headline 'Euthanasia law passed in Aussie state of Victoria'. Print Edition | Subscribe