It’s a topic that is guaranteed to divide opinion as people struggle to see eye to eye over the issue of voluntary assisted dying, with many arguing it is the most humane thing to do while others believe it constitutes state-sanctioned suicide.
According to Australian experts, other states and territories in Australia are likely to follow the lead of Victoria and pass their own voluntary assisted dying laws. Their latest research is being published in the Australian Health Review.
They say that international trends, growing political support and a weakness in opposing arguments all suggest euthanasia legislation is a “train that has left the station” and that other states will follow Victoria’s lead.
However, they suggest that while reform is likely, the “train journey will be one that is slow, uphill and with plenty of twists and turns”.
Ben White from the Australian Centre for Health Law Research said there had been 39 bills specifically aimed to legalise VAD in Australian jurisdictions between 1995 and 2015.
“A lot has changed in Australia and globally since the Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise euthanasia in 1995,” he said. “Those laws were overturned in 1997 by the Commonwealth using its constitutional powers over Territories.”
“Since 2016, a higher percentage of bills had been close to passing. Victoria had broken through a wall with its 2017 legislation to permit an adult with an advanced incurable disease to seek assistance to die and other states are closely watching.”
Many countries have legalised euthanasia or physician-assisted deaths, including Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and some states in the United States.
Currently, Victoria is the area in Australia to have passed voluntary assisted dying laws with the legislation set to come into effect in 2019. It will offer a choice to competent adults with a terminal illness and six months or less to live. For those dying of neurodegenerative diseases, such as MND or MS, the time frame is extended to twelve months or less to live.
There are strict eligibility criteria that a patient must also meet, which include being over 18 years of age, having decisional capacity and they must raise the issue with a doctor themselves. Three formal requests must also be made, the second in writing, with the minimum timeframe between first request and opportunity to take the medication being ten days.
Western Australia will introduce a bill next year to allow a conscious vote for MPs to allow voluntary assisted dying. Queensland has established a review to consider voluntary assisted dying to report back in November 2019.
South Australia’s last bill in 2016 was defeated by a single vote in its lower house of Parliament. The Northern Territory and ACT need the Federal Senate to overturn the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 which prohibited territories from legalising VAD.