Victoria becomes first Australian state to legalise assisted dying
MPs in the State of Victoria in Australia have today (Wednesday 29th November 2017) passed a Bill that will allow terminally ill adults the option of an assisted death in their final months 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 legislation was approved after over 100 hours of debate, including two sittings lasting over 24 hours, before being ratified on Wednesday 29th.
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. Terminally ill individuals must be in their final six months of life in order to make the request, with exceptions for those with neurodegenerative conditions like motor neurone disease who become eligible in their final year of life. A similar Bill debated in New South Wales earlier this month was defeated by only one vote.
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:
This landmark legislation means that a quarter of all Australians will soon have access to a more compassionate law that allows them the choice of a safe and comfortable death should they become terminally ill. Victoria joins 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 over many gruelling hours, with several 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 - 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.
By banning assisted dying in the UK we are not solving the problem – simply outsourcing it to Switzerland. Every week someone from Britain travels to Dignitas for an assisted death. Polling released earlier this month revealed that over half of Britons would consider it if terminally ill and two-thirds would consider breaking the law to help a loved one to do so - yet only a quarter would be able to afford the average £10k cost. Having a peaceful, dignified death on your own terms should not be a luxury only available to those who have the money, the physical strength to travel and loved ones willing to risk jail time to help them.
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. Change is the solution to our broken law and it’s high time our politicians acted to allow terminally ill citizens the right to die with dignity.