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Euthanasia bill could put vulnerable Victorians at risk

  • 22 September 2017


In June 2016, the eight-member Legislative Council Committee submitted to the Parliament of Victoria the final report of the inquiry into end of life choices.

In this report, the committee recommends the legalisation of doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Victoria. The committee suggests that doctors should be authorised to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients who can use them to end their life.

The committee also insists that, for a person who is physically unable to take the lethal drug, due either to disability or incapacity, 'a doctor should be able to assist a person to die by administering the drug'.

In October, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in parliament and then voted on before the end of the year to determine whether assisted suicide and euthanasia will be legalised in Victoria. If the bill is passed, Victoria will be the first state in Australia to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide since the NT Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was annulled two decades ago.

In 1996, Northern Territory passed the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to legalise euthanasia. This was overturned less than a year later by the federal government. Since then, other euthanasia bills have been rejected in Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania.

In the last few years, euthanasia campaigners such as Andrew Denton and Dr Rodney Syme have presented stories of persons dying in unbearable distress to argue the case for assisted death. Last year in The Australian, Denton reportedly told the 'church to get out of euthanasia debate'. In the aftermath of the royal commission investigations into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the religious voices are frequently dismissed by the public on this issue.

The 2016 report also puts forward the arguments in support of change in law. It argues that euthanasia legislation would (1) enhance individual autonomy or self-determination, (2) provide relief from suffering for patients and loved ones, (3) prevent suicide by other means, and (4) benefit the doctor-patient relationship. It also argues that (5) assisted dying occurs already and is unregulated, and (6) assisted dying is a form of palliative care. These arguments are either erroneous or simply naïve.

First, as British actress and disability rights advocate Liz Carr said in her captivating address to Victorian parliament on 22 March 2017, euthanasia legislation would lead to further coercion against vulnerable persons in society: the elderly and people with disability. Once voluntary suicide is legalised, to