The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill has passed the second reading, with 49 voting in favour and 37 against. It will now progress to full consideration in detail before being passed to the upper house, the Legislative Council.
MPs in the State of Victoria in Australia have today (Wednesday 18th October 2017) voted in support of a change in the law that would allow terminally ill adults the option of an assisted death in their final year of life.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was introduced by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday 17th October 2017. It was drawn up after an extensive Parliamentary inquiry into the subject, which found that one terminally ill Victorian was taking their own life every week.
The Bill is modelled on the assisted dying laws in the USA and allows terminally ill, mentally competent adults to ask their doctor to prescribe them a life-ending medication, which the dying person would take themselves. Similar legislation is also due to be debated in New South Wales in November of this year.
Daniel Andrews said the Bill would create the “most cautious, the safest, scheme for assisted dying anywhere in the world”. Closing the debate, Health Minister Jill Hennessy told the Legislative Assembly, “the time for reform is now; too many people have suffered for too long”.
In a poll released in September 2017, 77% of Victorians were found to support adults being able to choose to end their life “if they are suffering from an incurable disease that is advanced, progressive and will cause death, and which is causing suffering that cannot be relieved”.
Responding to the news, Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, an organisation campaigning for a change in the law on assisted dying in the UK, said:
“If this Bill passes, a quarter of all Australians will have access to a more compassionate law that allows them the choice of a safe and comfortable death should they become terminally ill. Victoria would join six American states and Canada in bringing in assisted dying legislation which recognises that dying people should be able to die on their own terms. This is a momentous step in the fight for the rights of terminally ill people worldwide.
“Passionate arguments were heard from both sides of the debate, with many MPs sharing deeply personal experiences as well as those of their constituents. It is heartening to hear that so many MPs have listened to the views of those they represent, the vast majority of whom support assisted dying. They have shown a level of empathy that appears to be lacking here in the UK. Despite an overwhelming majority of the British public supporting a change in the law to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill people, MPs in Westminster chose to ignore the views of their constituents and the reality faced by some dying people, and voted against an Assisted Dying Bill in 2015.
“As more jurisdictions around the world take steps towards allowing terminally ill people autonomy over their death, we urge parliamentarians in this country to consider why they are holding the UK back and denying dying Britons this right. It’s time our politicians listened to the people they claim to represent, and allow terminally ill people the right to die with dignity.”
For more information or interview requests, please contact Ellie Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 479 7732.
Notes to editors:
– Victoria is the second-biggest state in Australia by population, with over 6 million people – a quarter of all Australians – living there. The main city in Victoria is Melbourne, also the second-biggest city in Australia.
– The key recommendations of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill are:
• The person must be 18 years or over; and
• Be ordinarily resident in Victoria and an Australian citizen or permanent resident; and
• Have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying; and
• Be diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition that:
o is advanced, progressive and will cause death; and
o is expected to cause death within 12 months; and
o is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.
• Doctors and other healthcare workers are not permitted to raise assisted dying — only to respond to formal patient requests.
• The person must make three formal requests, the second of which must be written and witnessed by two independent people.
• The person must make the request themselves. Nobody else is authorised to make the request, and the request cannot be made via an advance care directive.
• Ordinarily, the minimum timeframe between first request and opportunity to take the medication is ten days.
• The person must maintain decisional capacity at all three requests.
• Two doctors must reach independent assessments that the person qualifies.
• Only doctors who have completed specialist training for voluntary assisted dying may participate.
• Any healthcare worker may decline to participate for any reason, without penalty.
• A prescription dispensed for the purpose of voluntary assisted dying must be kept in a locked box and any unused portion returned to the pharmacy after death.
• The person must self-administer the medication; except if the person is unable to, a doctor may administer. An independent witness is required if the doctor administers.
• Establishment of an authority to receive assisted dying reports, to assess reports, and to refer unacceptable cases to disciplinary or prosecutorial authorities.
• For Parliament to review summary reports; twice in the first two years and annually thereafter; a formal review at five years.
– New South Wales, the most populous state in Australia and home to Sydney, the most populous Australian city, is likely to debate similar legislation in November. Other Australian states are also considering assisted dying legislation including Queensland and Western Australia, while South Australia narrowly rejected a Bill earlier this year.
– Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care. For more information, visit https://www.dignityindying.org.uk/