Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed by the Victorian Lower House

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A controversial Victorian bill that would give access to voluntary assisted dying passed the Lower House on 20 October 2017. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 will now be debated in the Upper House.

If passed, the bill would give certain eligible persons who express their enduring wish to end their own suffering access to voluntary assisted dying.

In order to access voluntary assisted dying, a person must be an adult and an Australian citizen or permanent resident and must ordinarily reside in Victoria. A person must also have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying, and must be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that:

  • is incurable; and
  • is advanced, progressive and will cause death; and
  • is expected to cause death within weeks or months, not exceeding 12 months; and
  • is causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable.

The legislation is based on the recommendations of an expert panel, chaired by former Australian Medical Association national president Brian Owler. The panel recommended a number of safeguards for the proposed model of voluntary assisted dying, including protections in relation to eligibility, access, the assessment process, medication management and administration, mandatory reporting and offence provisions.

The process for accessing voluntary assisted dying would involve the person consulting with two suitably qualified medical practitioners who would assess the person’s eligibility to access voluntary assisted dying, including assessing the person’s decision making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying. If assessed as eligible, the person would then progress their request by making a written declaration requesting access to voluntary assisted dying.

Following the assessment and formal request process, the person’s co-ordinating medical practitioner would conduct a final review to check, document and notify the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board as to whether or not the person’s request and assessment process has been completed in accordance with the steps provided under the legislation.

Once their final request has been made, the person would appoint a contact person who is aged 18 years or more. The contact person’s role is to return any unused or remaining voluntary assisted dying substance dispensed for the person if they die without taking some or all of the substance.

The co-ordinating medical practitioner would apply to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for a permit for the person to self-administer the voluntary assisted dying substance. If the person is unable to self-administer they may request the co-ordinating medical practitioner to apply for a permit to administer the substance to the person but the permit will only be given if:

  • the person is physically incapable of self-administering or digesting an appropriate voluntary assisted dying substance;
  • the person has capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying; and
  • the person’s request for access to voluntary assisted dying is enduring.

The legislation does not contemplate the type of medication to be used, leaving it open for the most appropriate drug or combination of drugs to be made available through the scheme – a matter which would be determined by an implementation taskforce of experts and health practitioners in a process that is likely to involve an extensive investigation and further controversial debate.

The bill is set for the Upper House next week and the vote is likely to be very close, with The Australian reporting on 23 October that current support for the bill has been estimated as being split at 20-20, with 21 yes votes required for a majority in the 40 person chamber.

We will continue to closely monitor the progress of this bill.