Compelling case for assisted dying laws in Victoria

IT’S been a vexed issue for years – should euthanasia laws be introduced?

Locally-based state MPs Roma Britnell and James Purcell this week both backed moves to introduce assisted dying legislation for Victorians.

A ministerial panel set up by the state government is proposing the most conservative laws in the world.

A person over the age of 18 with a disease expected to cause death within 12 months and their suffering unable to be eased, would have to make three separate requests to end their life. The first request would be to a medical practitioner followed by two eligibility assessments.

The panel recommended 10 days must pass between a person’s first and third requests, a period deemed an appropriate amount of time to strike a balance between ensuring the decision was “well-considered” but not too long it prolonged suffering.

If a request to die was approved, the lethal drugs would be supplied by a pharmacist in a locked box to be self-administered. Only in instances in which a person was incapable of taking the drugs themselves would a medical practitioner assist, and they may not be administered by friends or family members. The panel predicts only about 150 Victorians a year would be eligible.

Mrs Britnell said experiences from her 30-year nursing career had influenced her support for the proposed legislation, describing it as “the right thing to do”.

“This is about making sure that people who are dying, who have weeks or months to live, that they are given the option,” she said.

Mr Purcell said he would support the bill if the safeguards recommended, including an assessment by a second doctor, were included. MPs are expected to have a conscience vote when legislation is introduced in the spring sitting.

We can expect an emotional debate from supporters and those against euthanasia.

But there is a compelling case for change. A doctor's duty is to relieve suffering; some suffering will be relieved only by death; some patients rationally and persistently request assistance to die; palliative care cannot relieve all the pain and suffering of dying patients.

There is no lack of dignity in deciding to let an illness run its course, but there is in denying choice when there are strict safeguards in place to end one’s life.

The proposed laws, conservative in their nature, strike a balance that should be supported.