Voluntary Assisted Dying bill passed

Funeral lily

Victoria’s Parliament has passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying bill, which will see pharmacists involved in the euthanasia process

The legislation will now go through an 18-month implementation period before it comes into effect in June 2019.

Victorians living with a terminal illness will now have access to voluntary assisted dying after deliberations resulted in amendments which the Victorian Government says strengthened the Bill and “maintained its vital integrity and compassion”.

These amendments include:

  • A person must have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months before being able to make a request.
  • A person with a mental illness must be referred to a psychiatrist for an assessment.
  • The assessing doctor must encourage the person to inform their regular doctor of their intention to access voluntary assisted dying, if the assessing doctor is not the person’s regular doctor.
  • The contact person is required to return any unused voluntary assisted dying substance within 15 days (not 30).
  • The Review Board has a role to follow up with the contact person to advise on the safe return of any unused medication.
  • The coroner will be informed of voluntary assisted dying deaths.
  • Death certificates for people who have chosen voluntary assisted dying will record the manner of death as voluntary assisted dying.

This legislation is the result of two and a half years of consultation and engagement with Members of Parliament, the community, health, palliative care and legal sectors, including the Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee’s Inquiry into End-of-Life Choices and the Expert Ministerial Advisory Panel.

“After two and a half years of hard work and consideration by so many in our Parliament, the passing of the Bill will finally give Victorians more control, compassion and support at the end of their lives,” says Victoria’s Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy.

Other states and territories may now follow suit: the Canberra Times reports that the ACT’s Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, is setting in motion an investigation into how the Victorian scheme could apply in the ACT.

The Greens are also reportedly examining whether legislation which prevents the ACT and Northern Territory from making their own legislation on voluntary assisted dying can be overturned.

In Western Australia a parliamentary committee is also looking at end-of-life choices.

Last week, when the legislation passed Victoria’s upper house, PSA president Dr Shane Jackson told the AJP that it was vital to safeguard pharmacists’ ability to choose whether or not to supply lethal medicines under the scheme.

“As a professional organisation we’re focused on making sure that the rights and obligations of pharmacists are absolutely protected for those individuals who conscientiously object to providing medicines for voluntary assisted dying – just as they’re able to conscientiously object to supplying other types of medicine,” Dr Jackson said.

“We also need to make sure that appropriate processes are in place in regards to oversight of the medicines – what happens with excess supply of the medicine, what happens with the return of medicines, what information is provided to individuals.

“A key component of that is the need to make sure, in this time of often quite significant distress for the individual and family members, that they know which pharmacies are willing and able to do this.”

Dr Lorraine Baker, President of AMA Victoria, issued a statement in which she said that “the outcome of this parliamentary vote will cause anguish for many members of our profession, as well as the public”.

“The AMA believes that doctors should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life,” she says.

“The AMA also recognises there are divergent views within the medical profession – and some of our members are supportive of voluntary assisted dying, and may choose to be involved in these processes.

“The conscientious objections provisions in the legislation ensure that no doctor (or other health practitioner) will ever be forced to be involved in Voluntary Assisted Dying if they do not wish to be. It is voluntary for the patient, and their doctor.

“AMA Victoria will now focus on ensuring that the legislation’s implementation process and regulations, in particular of the VAD substance and its controls, are correct, robust and safe for the medical profession and our patients.”

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