Victoria takes steps to become first Australian state to legalise assisted dying
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 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.
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.”