Fears of elder abuse and medical tourism have prompted Victoria’s Parliament, in passing the nation’s first assisted dying bill, to heavily restrict access to terminally ill Victorian residents expected to die within six months.
After a marathon debate – which forced one MP to be rushed to hospital for exhaustion – the state’s 40-member upper house passed a heavily amended bill on Wednesday, 22 votes to 18.
It was a conscience vote for all members. The bill was backed by 11 of 14 Labor members, four of 14 Liberals, all five Greens, and two of five minor party members. Both Nationals were opposed.
This was considered the bill’s final hurdle, as the Andrews Labor government has the numbers in the lower house, where it is expected to pass next week.
The scheme, likely be operational by 2019, will be the first in the nation. Similar attempts have failed numerous times, most recently in New South Wales on November 16 – where a bill was defeated by a single vote.
Dying with Dignity advocate Shayne Higson said she was “overwhelmed” by the result in Victoria.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” Ms Higson told journalists.
“The success in Victoria will mean other Australian states are bound to follow. I don’t think it will be very long before we see the next state [legalise assisted dying].”
However, many conservative leaders have denounced the bill. Former prime minister Tony Abbott attacked its passage as a “dreadful moral watershed” in Australian history.
Labor Premier Daniel Andrews heralded it a “historic day” and a moment of “Victoria at its best, leading our nation”.
He reminded the nation that the proposed assisted dying bill was the “most conservative scheme anywhere in the world”.
In order to secure sufficient votes, a litany of safeguards were added, including that:
- Patients must “ordinarily reside” in Victoria, be above the age of 18, and be capable of making decisions
- They must be suffering from an incurable illness which causes intolerable suffering and be expected to die within six months
- Mental illness or physical disability will not be sufficient reasons alone
- Two doctors must sign off
- No doctor will be allowed to suggest it
- Patients must make two formal requests for euthanasia as well as a written statement
A recent nationwide opinion poll suggested 87 per cent of Australians supported letting patients die when they are hopelessly ill and experiencing unbelievable suffering.
An expert recently warned The New Daily that such schemes should be taxpayer-funded to ensure they were not restricted to the wealthy.
“A situation where only the wealthy can afford to exercise this choice while the poor are forced to endure an existence deemed too painful for the rich would make most people uncomfortable,” Dr Aaron Trachtenberg, co-author of a report on euthanasia in Canada, said at the time.