The Victorian Government will introduce a bill to legalise assisted dying to the Parliament in the second half of 2017, Premier Daniel Andrews says.
A ministerial advisory panel made up of clinical, legal, consumer, health administration and palliative care experts will be established to help draft a “safe and compassionate” legislative framework for assisted dying.
Labor MPs will be granted a conscience vote, which means there is no guarantee the bill will pass through the lower and upper houses of the Parliament.
The announcement came after a cross-party parliamentary committee delivered a ground-breaking report in June calling for doctor-assisted dying to be legalised with strong safeguards.
Mr Andrews said he would vote for the bill because his views on assisted dying had changed.
“Community sentiment on this issue is changing, and I know many in Victoria think it’s time we have this debate — a debate that respects people’s views and respects people’s lives,” he said.
In a response tabled in Parliament this morning, the State Government said it would review the parliamentary committee’s recommendations because the report lacked “legal, clinical and organisational detail”.
“Further significant and detailed work would need to be undertaken considering the implementation of this recommendation,” the Government’s response read.
“Consistent with the introduction of any new medical intervention or procedure, rigorous review of the assisted dying framework should be undertaken including safety and quality considerations and the impact on wider health care delivery including resource implication for palliative and end of life care.”
Issue about dignity, not ideology: Health Minister
Health Minister Jill Hennessy said she believed the health system was failing a small group of people whose pain was not alleviated by palliative care.
“I genuinely do think there is strong community sentiment in support of assisting people who make a choice to die at the end of their life when they are enduring unbearable suffering,” she said.
“I don’t think this is a left versus right issue, I don’t think it’s a matter of ideology, I genuinely think it is about people having dignity at the end of their lives.”
Under the committee’s proposal, only adults of sound mind in the final weeks or months of life, who were suffering from a serious and incurable condition, would be given the right to choose when and how they die.
The request must come from the patient themselves, be repeated three times — including a formal written request — and be approved by two independent doctors, who would be legally protected.
Doctors would prescribe a lethal drug that would be taken by a patient and a review board would ensure doctors were complying with their requirements.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) opposes physician-assisted death and has warned any legislation must provide legal certainty and stringent safeguards for patients and doctors.
“All medical practitioners, whilst endeavouring to prolong life so that it can be enjoyed to its fullest, have a duty of care to ensure that no patient endures avoidable suffering, which is an entirely subjective matter.”
The inquiry into end of life choices considered more than 1,000 submissions and spent almost a year examining the emotive issue.
Between 2009 and 2013, 240 people experiencing debilitating physical decline took their lives, most of whom were over the age of 65.
Last month the South Australian Parliament’s 15th attempt to pass a voluntary euthanasia bill was defeated by one vote.