The proposed law
It is illegal to assist someone to die in Victoria, even if they are close to death, are suffering and asking for it to end. The law needs to change.
In Victoria, it is illegal to assist someone with a terminal illness to end their life. There are many complexities to the law, but otherwise it is clear: a person cannot actively assist another’s death even if the person is terminally ill, has no hope of recovery, is suffering and requesting a quick and peaceful end to their life.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 (click to read the full text) was introduced into the Victorian Legislative Assembly on 21 September 2017. The bill will be debated and put to a vote after Parliament returns from spring recess mid October. After the bill passes, it will be introduced into the Legislative Council early November, with further debate and a vote expected later that month.
How it was drafted
An Upper House Committee of the Victorian parliament has recommended a new law, designed for Victorians, with strictly limited scope and strong checks and balances.
Late last year, Premier Daniel Andrews called for government legislation to be drafted. This came as a result of the recommendation of an extensive Victorian cross-party enquiry into end-of-life choices.
Not long after (early in 2017) the Victorian Health Minister, Jill Hennessy, appointed an Expert Ministerial Advisory Panel to advise on the technical aspects of the legislation and design a workable scheme with strong safeguards and protections for the vulnerable.
The panel consists of medical, legal and consumer experts and is chaired by eminent neurosurgeon Prof Brian Owler, former federal President of the Australian Medical Association.
The Expert Ministerial Advisory Panel has released its report and developed guiding principles for legislation with no fewer than 68 safeguards.
How it works
The key recommendations are:
- The person must be 18 years or over; and
- Be ordinarily resident in Victoria and an Australian citizen or permanent resident; and
- Have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying; and
- Be diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition that:
- is advanced, progressive and will cause death; and
- is expected to cause death within 12 months; and
- is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable; and
- Doctors and other healthcare workers are not permitted to raise assisted dying — only to respond to formal patient requests.
- The person must make three formal requests, the second of which must be written and witnessed by two independent people.
- The person must make the request themselves. Nobody else is authorised to make the request, and the request cannot be made via an advance care directive.
- Ordinarily, the minimum timeframe between first request and opportunity to take the medication is ten days.
- The person must maintain decisional capacity at all three requests.
- Two doctors must reach independent assessments that the person qualifies.
- Only doctors who have completed specialist training for voluntary assisted dying may participate.
- Any healthcare worker may decline to participate for any reason, without penalty.
- A prescription dispensed for the purpose of voluntary assisted dying must be kept in a locked box and any unused portion returned to the pharmacy after death.
- The person must self-administer the medication; except if the person is unable to, a doctor may administer. An independent witness is required if the doctor administers.
- Establishment of an authority to receive assisted dying reports, to assess reports, and to refer unacceptable cases to disciplinary or prosecutorial authorities.
- For Parliament to review summary reports; twice in the first two years and annually thereafter; a formal review at five years.