Australia

Victoria's VAD Bill has passed both Houses and is now an Act.

Update 7th December 2017

At 4:10pm on Wednesday 22nd November, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed both Houses of the Victorian Parliament. The Victorian Governor has signed the Bill into an Act, so it is now law in Victoria, though not yet in effect. The Act will come into effect in June 2019, given Victorian residents facing intolerable suffering from an incurable illness, and who meet a number of hurdles, to lawfully request and obtain a peaceful death assisted by their doctor.


Update 20th October 2017

Victorians are a step closer to having the choice of assisted dying in the face of a terminal illness. After a marathon all-nighter sitting, the Legislative Assembly (lower house) this morning passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017. The Bill will now be sent to the Legislative Council (upper house).

The vote was won convincingly at 47:37, despite heroic efforts of opponents to create FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) through extensive misinformation, and filibustering the Bill's progress by putting up amendements to numerous clauses.

The Legislative Council is expected to debate the Bill next month.


Update 21st September 2017

In great news for Victorians, yesterday (20th September 2017), the Government tabled its Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill into the lower house of the legislature. The Bill is comprehensive, offering Victorians a further end-of-life choice, with numerous safeguards, and the stiffest pentalties worldwide for breaking the rules.

  • Read the Bill's explanatory memorandum (PDF, 273Kb).
  • Read the whole Bill (PDF, 945Kb).
     

Parliamentary debate on the Bill is likely to commence mid October, so now is the time to contact your own members of the Victorian parliament and let them know you support the Bill. If you don't know which electorate you live in or who your members are, or don't have their contact details, then:

  • Visit the Victorian Electoral Commission website and enter your home address, at the top of the page, to find out. It will show you your upper and lower house electorates. Make a note of the lower house electorate (District, in purple).
  • Then go to the Victorian Parliament website and enter your lower house electorate name in the Electorate field (the last one) and click Search, to find your lower house member. Note down your Member's contact details.
  • Then, also click the [Electorate] button on the Member's page (on the right) and then click the Region link on the target page. This also gives you the names and details of your five upper house parliamentarians.
  • Take down their contact details and let them all know you're asking them to support the Bill.

The Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues (Legislation and References) of the Parliament of Victoria, Australia, has recommended that the Government introduce leglislation to allow assisted dying in restricted circumstances.

Update 9th June 2016

In excellent news for Victorians, the LSIC has recommended that the Government legislate to allow assisted dying in restricted circumstances.

 

"Recommendation 49: The Government should introduce legislation to allow adults with decision making capacity, suffering from a serious and incurable condition who are at the end of life to be provided assistance to die in certain circumstances."

The recommendations include:

  • Eligibility: A mentally competent adult experiencing intolerable and unrelievable suffering, with weeks or months to live. Must be ordinarily resident in Victoria and an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
  • A process by which requests may be made (and rescinded).
  • Checks and tests to ensure that relevant critieria have been met.
  • Establishment of an authority to receive reports of assisted dying and present reports to Parliament.
  • That conscientious objection (to not participate) is protected.
  • That in the case that a patient cannot self-administer lethal medication, a doctor may do so at the patient's request.

 
You can read the full report here.

 

Important!

The recommendation has yet to translate into a Bill and a majority vote of both Houses of the Victorian Parliament. Some parliamentarians are intractably opposed to this reform and it's important that policitians hear from you to know that you want them to support the reform.

Sign the petition to go to all Victorian parliamentarians now, and spread the word!

 


 

 

Submissions were invited from interested individuals and organisations into end-of-life decision-making in Victoria, including:

  • current practices including palliative care;
  • whether current legislation satisfactorily encompasses contemporary community standards, aspirations and views;
  • a review of legislation and practices in other jurisdictions, both within Australia and overseas; and
  • what types of legislative change may be required.

Submissions to the inquiry, which have not been requested to remain confidential, are published on the Parliamentary website here.

Despite the Terms of Reference for the inquiry  (below) do not mention assisted dying, almost all submissions to the inquiry have been made either to support or oppose the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted dying. Clearly, the community is strongly engaged with the issue.

More information is available on the Victorian Parliament Inquiry's website.

 

Submissions have now closed.

 

Terms of Reference   

 

STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND
SOCIAL ISSUES
(Legislation and References)

 

Terms of Reference

58th Parliament

 

Inquiry into End of Life Choices

 

On 7 May 2015 the Legislative Council agreed to the following motion:

That pursuant to Sessional Order 6 this House requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, no later than 31 May 2016, on the need for laws in Victoria to allow citizens to make informed decisions regarding their own end of life choices and, in particular, the Committee should —

  1. assess the practices currently being utilised within the medical community to assist a person to exercise their preferences for the way they want to manage their end of life, including the role of palliative care;
  2. review the current framework of legislation, proposed legislation and other relevant reports and materials in other Australian states and territories and overseas jurisdictions; and
  3. consider what type of legislative change may be required, including an examination of any federal laws that may impact such legislation.

 

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Last weekend in Adelaide, Australia, delegates from around the world congregated at a conference convened by Paul Russell's group, "HOPE". The conference's purpose was to share information in opposition to assisted dying law reform. It was held in Adelaide partly because it is described as the 'virtual epicenter' of moves to legalise voluntary euthanasia. That's a great credit to Frances Coombe and her team at the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society, who work tirelessly towards reform that the overwhelming majority of citizens want.

But here's the rub. Despite being an international conference with a public website advertising its value and program, it was open only to "anyone who opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide."

How curious.

When I chaired the global World Federation of Right To Die Societies conference in Melbourne, Australia in 2010, of course we had closed sessions for our people. That's natural and proper.

But we also had a full day of sessions open to the public. Plenty of opponents attended.

Not only that, but I also ensured that a range of voices were heard in the official program, too. Father Bill Uren, naturally opposed from the viewpoint of the Catholic tradition, was gracious enough to participate in a panel discussion. There was of course lively debate, and, I am pleased to say, all conducted with courtesy despite the differences of perspective.

All good, open and healthy stuff.

So the question is, why did the anti-euthanasia delegates in Adelaide feel it necessary to conduct their entire conference in secret? Were they scared of a range of views? Might there have been misinformation that could be challenged? Some other reason?

I guess time will tell.


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The Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) invited reasoned and measured assisted-dying doctor, Dr Rodney Syme, to address its annual conference in Cairns, and then unceremoniously pulled the plug. Cowardice? Flip-flop? You bet.

In February this year, Dr Syme says he was approached by a member of the the RACP 2015 Congress committe to attend and deliver a paper to the annual conference, in Cairns 24-27 May. The title of his paper was "Caring for those at the end of their journey." Dr Syme accepted the invitation and spent considerable time and effort preparing and polishing his paper. He was quite clear that a polemic on assisted dying was not suitable for this occasion, and wrote a paper discussing the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of palliative care: in other words, as is well-established, that despite the excellent quality of pallaitive care in Australia, it simply can't relieve the intolerable suffering of all dying patients. In any case, it would be unrealistic to expect palliative care to be perfect: we live in an imperfect world.

Dr Syme has been in the news recently in regard to providing medication and advice to Mr Ray Godbold, who is dying of advanced gatroesophageal cancer. The medication and advice gives Mr Godbold control over the end of his life.

Then, the RACP dropped a bombshell on 8th May. It unilaterally cancelled Dr Syme's invitation. It claimed to have done so in response to complaints by palliative care specialists.

Given that the RACP congress is titled "breaking boundaries, creating connections", and promises delegates a "diverse program" that facilitates "interaction and debate", this is an appalling development.

Dr Syme responded that:

  1. I personally feel deeply insulted.
  2. I regard the behaviour of those at the highest level of the college, an academic institution of high repute, as being less than expected of an academic body.
  3. For the college to surrender to “significant disquiet” from an unknown and undisclosed number of members in this way is cowardly.
  4. The Lead Fellow who invited me was incensed at the College’s reaction.
  5. The outcome is an act of academic censorship of the worst kind – they did not know the content of my address.
  6. It illustrates the extreme depths to which those opposed to open debate on an important medical and social issue will descend to stifle debate.”

I'm not surprised by that view. If palliative care specialists (and/or others) do not believe Dr Syme's points to be valid or defensible, then let him put them, and then rebut them. To reneg on the original invitation because someone might disagree is academic censorship.

That the RACP would stoop to such insulting flip-flop is not a great endorsement of their stature as an esteemed medical body.  It's time we had open and frank debate about end-of-life matters. Of course there will be disagreements—that is the point of debate.

The RACP owes a full explanation to both Dr Syme and to medical colleagues throughout Australia as to how many people demanded Dr Syme's invitation be withdrawn, and precisely on what basis, not merely that "they might not have liked what Dr Syme may  have to say."

Mr Marshall Perron, former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, wrote the following to the RACP:

As a supposedly professional body the [RACP] organisation should encourage open and honest discussion on issues of great interest to our ageing citizens.  Instead you demonstrate a cowardly approach of which you should be ashamed.

 

 


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Dying Victorian man Peter Short, and his wife Elizabeth talk about coping with Peter's terminal illness, and make a plea to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to meet with them to discuss responsible assisted dying law reform. Peter has since died.

Visit the YouTube page.

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The Hon. Bob Such's Ending Life With Dignity Bill 2013, before the South Australian Parliament, contains a strong compliment of safeguards, as Neil Francis explains in this video. The refusal of life-saving treatment, to which Australians are entitled but with the same direct and foreseeable consequence as doctor-assisted dying requests, have practically none of these safeguards, yet there has been NO avalanche of inappropriate persuasion to refuse life-saving medical treatment, as the so-called "slippery slope" hypothesis would have us believe.

This is the third of three videos sent to South Australian MPs in 2013.

Visit the YouTube page.

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Opponents of assisted dying law reform often invoke fictional slippery slopes as objections to law reform. In this video, Neil Francis gives three examples of supposed slippery slopes argued by opponents, explains why they are fictional, and shares the perspectives of several recognised experts from the USA state of Oregon about their Death With Dignity law which has been in effect since 1997. Three long-time Oregonian Death With Dignity Act opponents also admit there's no cause-and-effect relationship established between law reform and supposed slippery slopes.

This is the second of three videos sent to South Australian MPs in 2013.

Visit the YouTube page.

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While good palliative care can help many dying patients and their families, the clear worldwide evidence is that even the best palliative care possible simply can't help alleviate intolerable suffering for some. This is not a criticism of palliative care. In these cases, the overwhelming majority of the public want law reform to allow the patient to request and receive assistance from their doctor to peacefully hasten their death.

This is the first of three videos sent to South Australian MPs in 2013.

Visit the YouTube page.

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