Voluntary assisted dying a step closer

Funeral lily

Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has been passed through the state’s lower house following an emotional debate

The introduction of the Bill followed a report by the Ministerial Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying, headed by former AMA president Dr Brian Owler, which included 68 safeguards, all of which the Andrews Government accepted when drafting the legislation.

Under the legislation, pharmacists would supply lethal medication in a “locked box” following a strict procedure which would be self-initiated by the person living with a life-limiting illness.

Victoria’s Health Minister, Jill Hennessy, said that this was a “historic” day for the state.

“We are one step closer to getting this done – but there is more work to do,” she says.

“This week we have seen incredibly powerful contributions from all sides of the debate as Members of Parliament have shared their personal experiences and given this issue the consideration it deserves.

“This vote brings us closer to giving Victorians with terminal illnesses the choice they deserve at the end of their lives.”

The success of the legislation follows a long and often heated debate in the Lower House, in which several Members expressed concern about a range of issues, including the impact on health professionals of assisting a terminally ill person to end their life.

Liberal state deputy leader and member for Croydon David Hodgett said that “no doctor goes into medical practice because they want to end life”.

“Doctors are not the only medical professionals that are affected. There are the pharmacists who will prepare the drugs they know to be deadly. There are the nurses who may hear the first appeals from patients and who may be present when the patient is assisted to take their own life,” he said.

“How will any of these dedicated health professionals feel after a patient suicide? Will they feel responsible for a premature death, one they could have avoided, if only for a few months? That they cannot be prosecuted will not relieve them of feelings of guilt or regret.”

Ben Carroll, Minister for Industry and Employment, spoke passionately in favour of the Bill, citing the case of Clive Deverell, former executive director of Cancer Council Western Australia and former president of Palliative Care WA, who took his own life after living for two decades with a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“At his funeral his wife, Noreen Fynn, told family and friends that he left a note that said, ‘Suicide is legal, euthanasia is not’.

“This landmark legislation will make right a cruel law which at the moment is prejudicial to the interests and wishes of patients.”

Should the Bill pass the Upper House, there will be an 18-month implementation period before access to voluntary assisted dying will begin, in order to clarify roles and processes, including those involving pharmacists.

Victorian president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ben Marchant told the AJP that the PSA would “be looking at it in detail and working out what we need to do”.

“We’ve been doing quite a bit of background work already in preparation for its coming out – I’ve got a team of our branch committee members working on it at the moment.”

Meanwhile, doctor groups appear divided on the issue.

RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel said that he is satisfied that ethical and professional issues associated with voluntary assisted dying have been appraised appropriately in the Bill, which he welcomed.

But AMA president Dr Michael Gannon has received negative feedback after taking to Twitter to criticise the Bill.

An AJP mini-poll this week shows two-thirds of respondents (68%) support voluntary assisted dying, with 32% in opposition; however the poll’s sample size is very small, at 25 at the time of writing.

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