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On 29 November 2017, the Victorian Parliament successfully passed a bill to legalise voluntary dying, or euthanasia. While it has been welcomed by many in the community, the law has also caused controversy and debate.
Wisely stated by Minister for Health Jill Hennessey in her Second Reading Speech, “Talking about death is a challenging and confronting issue.” In passing the law, the Victorian Government has shown great courage and compassion, while also considering the necessary community protections through the implementation of safeguards and regulation.
Not everyone will be eligible for euthanasia under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017. A person seeking to end their life under this law must meet the following criteria:
Patients will need to make two formal requests for the procedure, including at least one in writing, and the procedure must then be signed off by two doctors. Doctors cannot initiate the discussion regarding euthanasia – it must be raised by the patient themselves. The doctor will then prescribe the drug, and the patient will be expected to administer it themselves.
Naturally, extensive research and debate has been had surrounding the vulnerability of those contemplating voluntary assisted death. There is concern the new law will create a situation where murder and manslaughter will go unnoticed, protected by the legislative veil that is voluntary assisted dying.
All interested parties do agree on one point – it is paramount the new scheme be stringently and efficiently regulated.
With that in mind, the law also creates new criminal offences to protect the vulnerable against coercion and abuse, and a special regulatory board established to review all cases. From the Second Reading Speech, “A decision to access voluntary assisted dying must always be the person’s own decision, and any undue influence or dishonesty to induce a person will be criminal.”
These are noteworthy and sensible safeguards, and address many of the concerns that have been raised in the debate surrounding this issue. They will help to ensure that this decision is not made lightly and given all due consideration, and that it cannot be made by someone other than the patient themselves.
Although this law will only affect a relatively small percentage of the population, it is an enormous and courageous step forward. At the outset, the new legislation appears to be a pragmatic solution to a very complex issue.
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