After almost three years of research and consultation, a cross-parliamentary inquiry, an expert ministerial advisory panel, countless public debates, and more than 100 hours of forensic argument in both Houses of Parliament, Victoria has become the first state in Australia to pass a Voluntary Assisted Dying law.
Victoria’ s law will come into effect in 2019, after an eighteen-month implementation period. It will offer a choice to competent adults with a terminal illness and six months or less to live. For those dying of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as MND or MS, the time frame is extended to twelve months or less to live.
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.