As the debate over New Zealand’s End of Life Bill continues, it is a good idea to see what is happening “over the ditch” as Victoria passes its new assisted dying laws. Victoria’s new laws came into effect on 19 June this year. For the first time in over 20 years, voluntary assisted dying (VAD) or ‘voluntary euthanasia’ will be legal in Australia.
What do the laws allow?
Under the new laws, terminally ill Victorians over the age of 18 will be able to legally request access to life-ending medication. To be eligible, you must be aged over 18; an Australian citizen or permanent resident; and have lived in Victoria for over 12 months. You must also have been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will cause death within six months (or 12 months if the condition is neurodegenerative) and possess decision-making abilities. There are 68 different safeguards in place, making the legislation some of the strictest in the world.
Critically, people with a degenerative brain condition such as Alzheimer’s disease are eligible to access VAD, provided they meet all other criteria, though having a condition such as dementia alone is not deemed sufficient cause to access the scheme, and the patient will lose access if it affects their decision-making abilities. The same criteria apply to patients with a mental illness or disability.
You must also be assessed independently by two doctors. Following the doctors’ assessment, the patient must sign a written request confirming they are making an informed, voluntary and enduring decision, as well as make a final verbal request. The whole process can also not happen in fewer than 10 days unless the person is expected to die within that time.
In most cases, the prescription will be administered by the person themselves. However, a medical professional may be allowed to assist with this if the person is not physically able to do so.
It’s hard to tell how many people will access the new laws once they come into effect – but based on international trends in countries where voluntary assisted dying is already legal (such as Canada, The Netherlands and Switzerland), the state government estimates around 100 to 150 people will choose to voluntarily end their lives with assistance each year – including some in aged care.
Other Australian states like Western Australia and Queensland are also looking at adopting similar laws.
A difficult issue to navigate
This is a complex and sensitive issue – many patients, families and health professionals (both in Australia and New Zealand) are opposed to it. However, a number of Australians and New Zealanders also feel that it should be the right of a terminally ill individual to have control over when and how they end their life.
This is a difficult topic that affects everyone, and it is important that every different points of view are listened to. The safety and care of terminally ill citizens should be all Government’s top priority, regardless of laws.