Australia’s only euthanasia laws are in place but it could take weeks, if not months, for the first person to die under the state Labor scheme, and maybe much longer for the public to know.
Terminally-ill Victorians in intolerable pain and with less than six months to live, or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases, and who meet a total of 68 safeguards can request their doctor’s help to die. They have to be over 18 years old.
The application process takes at least 10 days before approval is granted.
“There will be perhaps a number of weeks before we become aware that a person has accessed the first permit in Victoria, it’s very difficult to predict the exact timing,” Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told reporters at parliament on June 19.
“But look, there are people who have been waiting a long period of time for this change to commence today and my thoughts are with them.”
The coroner and an independent review board, headed by former supreme court justice Betty King, will be alerted to each of the lethal-medication deaths, for review.
The government expects up to 150 people a year will eventually use the scheme but those numbers might only be known through the review board’s annual report, which will include the number of permits issued and deaths that occur.
“We will look at all of the material that has been placed before the people, the secretary who makes the decision, and we will review it to ensure it was compliant with the law,” King said.
“If there is something that is an impediment or blockage, then we will talk about it, we will report it to the parliament.”
If there is any suspicious activity, it will be reported to the police, coroner or medical review board, she said.
It’s been 18 months since parliament narrowly passed the controversial laws.
Catholic Health Australia, which is one of the largest health and aged care service providers in the state, says it does not consider the prescription of the lethal medicine a part of end-of-life care. But its services will not stand in the way if patients seek euthanasia from other providers.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said that doctors can conscientiously object to taking part in the scheme and more money is being put into palliative care.
“For the vast majority of Victorians, they will continue to access this world-class palliative care but we know that even the best of palliative care is not sufficient to alleviate the pain and suffering of all individuals,” she said.
The laws were passed in November 2017 after the Andrews Labor government pushed through the government bill. The bill had been met with both support from long-time advocates and also criticism from pro-life groups.
Dr. Rachel Carling, who was a Victorian MP at the time the bill was being debated, told The Epoch Times in May that she held a number of concerns, including that there is no definition of what constituted suffering in the legislation.
“There is absolutely no requirement for the person to be experiencing pain or other physical symptoms,” she said.
There is “nothing to exclude forms of existential suffering such as loss of autonomy, lack of capacity to enjoy former hobbies, feeling a burden on family or financial concerns to be the only suffering experienced.”
British comedian, actress, and disabled rights advocate Liz Carr told the Victorian Parliament in 2017 that any safeguards, let alone 68, were “an acknowledgement of risk in the first place” and that “the risk of getting it wrong in one case is too much.”
“It’s tough,” she said. “The people who were driven to pass these laws have seen some horrific things, they’ve seen the people that they love die.” But legislation won’t change that, she said.
“Death is always going to be messy whether we have assisted suicide laws or not.”
Legal experts warned at the time that the passing of “assisted dying” legislation in Victoria sets the precedent for similar legislation to be adopted in other states across the nation.
Queensland and Western Australia are already considering their own “assisted dying” legislation, but not only for the terminally ill. Those states are also open to considering the needs of those with chronic illness or neurological conditions.
The Victorian government has allocated $6.5 million over four years to implement the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act.
By Kaitlyn Offer