CAMPAIGN STATUS: Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passes Victorian Parliament on Wednesday 29 November 2017. Laws to be in full effect by June 2019.
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Did you know?
Most Australians Support Dying With Dignity
There is long-standing, strong public support for assisted dying in Australia. Polls over the past decade show that up to 85% of people in the community support the introduction of Dying with Dignity laws.
A Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry Has Urged Reform
The Greens recently instigated a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into End of Life Choices. The inquiry committee, which was made up of MPs from the Greens, Labor, Liberal and other parties, strongly recommended that assisted dying be legalised in Victoria.
Australia is Lagging Behind in the Western World
Assisted dying is already legal in many countries in Europe, in Canada and parts of the United States, and these laws have been operating successfully for years.
Why do we need Dying with Dignity?
A Peaceful End to Life
No one should be forced to suffer in their final stage of their life, yet under our current laws terminally ill patients are often forced to die horrific and painful deaths. People at the end of their life should have the option of a quick, peaceful and dignified death if their pain is intolerable.
Every week in Victoria, an elderly person commits suicide because they fear what’s ahead. They fear intolerable suffering with no way out. Assisted dying laws would bring huge amount of peace of mind to people who just need to know that they have options at the end of their life.
We know that assisted dying is already happening — but it’s happening illegally behind closed doors. By legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill we would be providing a regulated system with strict safeguards to protect vulnerable people.
Limits to Palliative Care
Palliative care plays an important role for people at the end of their lives, however there are limitations and palliative care cannot always relieve extreme pain or suffering.
Choice & Control
In the same way that everyone has the right to refuse treatment, everyone should also be able to chose how to manage their own pain and suffering at the end of their lives.
Peace of Mind
For many terminally ill people, just having the option of an assisted death would relieve a huge amount of stress and anxiety, even if they don’t use it.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
In late 2017, Victoria’s Parliament will vote on a proposed law that would make voluntary assisted dying legal in the state for people meeting strict eligibility criteria. Opinion polls over the last decade have shown strong support for voluntary assisted dying. But for many Victorians this remains an extremely sensitive and contentious issue, and a minority of Australians are strongly opposed.
The Victorian Greens strongly support voluntary assisted dying and have been campaigning for this legislation for many years. We value and support the availability of excellent palliative care, but we believe that people in extreme pain deserve a range of options at the ends of their lives, including voluntary assisted dying. We support an open and honest debate on this issue but we believe it must be a respectful and constructive debate, and it must be grounded in facts and evidence.
This fact sheet is designed to assist people in understanding what the new law is likely to contain, how it will work, what safeguards will apply and the process for deciding whether the proposal will become law. The proposed legislation is not yet available, but we can expect it to closely reflect the findings and recommendations of the Victorian inquiry into end of life choices (2016) and the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying (2017), which have both been accepted by the Victorian government. This fact sheet is based on the final reports by the inquiry committee and the expert advisory panel.
Who will be eligible for voluntary assisted dying?
Only people who are dying and suffering from an advanced, progressive, incurable disease, illness or medical condition would be eligible to request voluntary assisted dying.
The Ministerial Advisory Panel has recommended that in order to be eligible, a person must have an advanced, incurable illness that is expected to cause death within weeks or months, and 12 months at the most. It has recommended that a request should only be approved where the person believes that all available alternatives will not be able to adequately relieve severe pain associated with their illness.
Who can make a request for voluntary assisted dying?
Only the person themselves can request voluntary assisted dying. No-one will be able to make a request on behalf of another person, and it will be illegal to attempt to convince a person to make a request for assisted dying.
How would the process work?
The proposed model would require people to make three separate requests, with at least 10 days between the first and final requests. This is designed to ensure that the decision to access voluntary assisted dying has been thoroughly considered by every applicant. In cases of extreme suffering there may be a provision allowing for this time frame to be shortened, but the Ministerial Advisory Panel has strongly recommended that the absolute minimum in any case should be two days.
Could a person change their mind after they have requested voluntary assisted dying?
A person who has made a request for voluntary assisted dying could change their mind at any point in the process.
How many people are expected to take up assisted dying options?
Only a small number of people each year would meet the eligibility criteria recommended by the expert advisory panel, and of these, only a very small percentage would choose to request voluntary assisted dying.
Legislation similar to that proposed for Victoria has been in place in Oregon, USA, for 20 years. Voluntary assisted dying accounted for 0.37% deaths in Oregon in 2016, and if we apply that figure to Victoria, were talking about a projected 148 deaths per year.
Data from the Netherlands cannot be used to predict figures for Victoria, as their legislation doesn’t require applicants to have a terminal illness. This means that a much larger proportion of people are eligible under assisted dying legislation than would be the case in Victoria. Comparisons between these schemes aren’t helpful in developing an informed conversation about this issue in Victoria.
How would the scheme protect vulnerable people?
The Ministerial Advisory Panel recommended a strict process where eligible people would have to submit multiple requests and undertake a series of medical and psychological assessments. This would involve two independent medical assessments and a written declaration witnessed by two independent witnesses.
The framework would require medical professionals to determine that a person is capable of making an informed decision; is making the decision voluntarily and without coercion; and that their request has been thoroughly considered.
Will people with disabilities or a mental illness be eligible?
People with mental illness or people with disabilities only would not be eligible for voluntary assisted dying on these grounds. People with a terminal illness and less than 12 months to live, as well as a mental illness or disability, might be eligible for voluntary assisted dying, but only if they are assessed as having adequate decision-making capacity. If a medical professional determines that a patient does not have the capacity that decision they would not be able to access assisted dying, and no other person could make a request on their behalf.
One of the most important requirements is that a person have decision-making capacity and that their request is voluntary. At least two medical practitioners will be required to assess this. Medical practitioners working within the voluntary assisted dying framework will complete additional professional training in the process of assessing decision-making capacity. If a medical practitioner has any doubt about the person’s decision-making capacity, they will be required to refer the person to an appropriate specialist to assess decision-making capacity.
Shouldn’t we focus on improving palliative care as an alternative to voluntary assisted dying?
Even with the best palliative care, there are people whose suffering cannot be relieved through available treatments. Palliative Care Australia and Palliative Care Victoria acknowledge this. The proposed model for voluntary assisted dying is designed to work within the palliative care structure, and would only be accessible by people whose suffering could not be relieved to an extent that is tolerable for that person.
In order to provide the most comprehensive choice and support for people at the ends of their lives, we should invest heavily in a great palliative care system and we should provide the option of voluntary assisted dying to those who are suffering significant, unrelievable pain as a result of a terminal illness.
How would a person end their life under this scheme?
Under the scheme, an approved person would be prescribed a lethal dose of medicine to be self-administered orally. There would be strict and rigorous safeguards developed around the prescription of this dose, its storage, and requirements for returning any unused medicine.
Who would administer the medication that would end a person’s life?
The person requesting voluntary assisted dying would administer their own dose of lethal medicine. If they wished, their doctor could be with them. Experience in other countries has shown that many people feel comforted by having their doctor with them at this time.
If a person was assessed as eligible for voluntary assisted dying, but was physically incapable of administering medicine, there would be grounds in very few cases for a doctor to administer medicine. It is important to note that this arrangement would rarely occur and that doctors would be able to choose whether to participate in this process or not.
What’s the process for determining whether this proposal should be made law?
Following its acceptance of the Ministerial Advisory Panel’s report, the Victorian Government is now drafting legislation that will provide the legal foundations for voluntary assisted dying. The proposed legislation (bill) will most likely be introduced into Parliament between September and November 2017.
The Victorian Government has already determined that Members of Parliament will be allowed a conscience vote on this legislation, which means they are free to vote based on their beliefs and what they believe best serves their electorate, as opposed to being bound to their party’s policy. There may be changes proposed to the legislation when it is debated in Parliament, and it will have to be supported by a majority of both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council in order to become law.