The reality of Voluntary Assisted Dying for terminally ill Australians moved one step closer on Saturday as the Victorian government confirmed that anyone living in Victoria with a terminal illness who wishes to end their life with dignity, will be able to do so from June.
“All of the guidelines are now in place for voluntary assisted dying to begin in June,” Acting Minister for Health Martin Foley said in a statement. “(Ensuring) people with a terminal illness who wish to end their lives with dignity can do so.”
The minister also announced that a sole pharmacy will be responsible for dispensing all voluntary assisted dying medications across the state, with the government wanting to establish the “safest and most conservative” Voluntary Assisted Dying model in the world.
Foley revealed that the responsibility for importing, storing, preparing and dispensing medications for those who make the choice to follow the path of euthanasia, would befall the pharmacy service at The Alfred hospital.
He added: “Having a single point of access for voluntary assisted dying is just one of the ways we’re making sure the model is the safest and most conservative in the world.
“We’ve made voluntary assisted dying legal because a person’s quality of death is part of their quality of life – and everyone deserves a dignified choice at the end of their lives.”
Despite euthanasia passing into legislation in the state in 2017, having gained support in both the upper and lower houses, the laws were not set to take effect until 2019.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act, once commenced, 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.
In November last year Australian experts published research in the Australian Health Review, which predicted that other states and territories across Australia would likely follow the lead of Victoria and pass their own voluntary assisted dying laws.
They said 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 in Victoria’s footsteps.
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”.
“A lot has changed in Australia and globally since the Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise euthanasia in 1995,” Ben White from the Australian Centre for Health Law Research 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 around the world have already legalised euthanasia or physician-assisted deaths, including Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and some states in the United States.