Last updated June 19, 2019 at 5:41 pm
Victoria has become the first state to allow terminally ill patients to request help ending their suffering.
Victoria has become the first Australian state to legalise euthanasia for terminally ill patients. Coming into effect today, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act allows adults who meet strict eligibility criteria to request life-ending medication.
Terminally ill adults in intolerable pain and with less than six months to live will have to meet a reported 68 conditions before they can request their doctor’s help in ending their life.
How the process will work
To be eligible patients must be over the age of 18, have lived in Victoria for the previous 12 months, and be able to make and communicate their decision on their own.
They also must have an advanced disease that is expected to lead to their death within six months – or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases.
If these and other criteria are met, there is a three-step process: a first verbal request, a written request and a final verbal request.
Two doctors must then agree to the patients request after reviewing their condition. If they both sign off, patients will be given a life-ending prescription tablet to take at a time of their choosing.
From request to supply of the drugs will take at least 10 days to complete. Additionally, an independent review board and the state coroner will be tasked with monitoring deaths under the scheme.
It is expected up to 150 people will go through the process to end their suffering each year.
“As Victorian voluntary assisted dying laws begin, questions turn to how the law will work in practice,” he says.
“Initial challenges may include patients being unsure how to find willing doctors, and health services working out how they will respond to requests for voluntary assisted dying. The need to resolve such issues is normal for major changes to laws or health care practice like this.”
Other states are likely to follow suit
Victoria is the first state to implement such a law, but experts suggest it won’t be the last.
“Now that Victoria has broken through the wall with its voluntary assisted dying law reform, other states are likely to follow,” says White. “Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia all have inquiries considering change.”
“Although over 40 attempts to change the law in Australia have failed in the past, more recent reform efforts appear to be getting closer to law changing.”
The Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise assisted dying in 1995. However, this decision was overturned in 1997 by the Commonwealth.
Voluntary assisted dying is currently legal in parts of Western Europe and North America.
Protection for doctors
Under the act, doctors and other health services cannot be forced to supply medication, assess a person for voluntary assisted dying or even supply information.
Some services may choose to provide information but not have the facilities to offer or support voluntary assisted dying.
The independent Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will oversee the scheme and ensure that a compassionate outcome is provided while also safeguarding the community.