Melbourne News

Assisted dying report: New laws could broaden conditions

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Media and Communications Office
 
With a government bill to be introduced to the state Parliament later this year, Victoria could become the first state in Australia to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill.  
 
A cross-party parliamentary investigation recommended the state set up a framework around how the new laws might operate. The government's advisory group has analysed some of the debate's most controversial issues.
 
With an interim report is expected within days, advisors to the Andrews government are considering setting longer-than-expected timeframe in the Euthanasia laws. They are meant to be introduced this year after the assisted dying bill is put to a conscience vote in the Victorian parliament.
 
The interim report is believed to:
 
  • back doctors right to ‘conscientious objection’ to physician-assisted death
  • push for the need of appropriate qualifications for medical specialists prior to them practicing assisted dying
  • require patients to have decision-making capacity to make a request, dementia patients would be ruled out
  • propose criminal sanctions to ensure strict safeguards against misuse and exploitation.
The assisted dying framework being proposed would give eligible Victorian adults access to doctor prescribe lethal pills. The guidelines also state that the person should have a terminal disease, with only ‘weeks and months’ left to live, with ‘intolerable suffering’. 
 
However many different illnesses with vastly different trajectories need to be considered, including motor-neuron disease, end-stage heart and respiratory failure, and end-stage cancers. ‘We have to look at how all those conditions might fit into the legislations,' said taskforce chairman Brian Owler, a former president of the Australian Medical Association.
 
According to CEO of Catholic Health Australia Suzanne Greenwood, the interim report raises numerous points of concern. ‘While it’s pleasing to read media reports indicating the advisory group’s interim report will attempt to address some of CHA’s concerns regarding the government’s proposed assisted suicide legislation, it will be of particular interest to CHA whether concerns around adequate funding to ensure equitable access to optional end-of-life services will be acknowledged,’ she said. 
 
‘The Andrews Government is proposing that if assisted suicide were to be legalised, every Victorian would have access to supports such as appropriate education, specialist psychiatric evaluation, and accessible end-of-life care alternatives to assisted suicide such a high-quality palliative care service,’ said Greenwood.          
 
‘CHA has already called on the Andrews Government to demonstrate how it would ensure every Victorian would be afforded these supports by releasing its financial modelling to the public,’ said Greenwood. ‘Palliative care continues to be severely under-resourced in Victoria. If only one Victorian were to be presented with assisted suicide as their only practicable option to relieve suffering associated with advanced terminal disease, then true choice would hardly enter the equation.’
 
The interim report is based on 100 submissions and meetings with around 300 individuals across the state, including doctors, lawyers and police. The report will only summarise the feedback given to the panel. Clear recommendations will be made in a final report later this year.
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