The state of Victoria is set to become the first in Australia to legalise euthanasia after the upper house of the state’s parliament approved a Bill earlier today. The 40-member Legislative Council approved an amended version of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill by 22 votes to 18. Because the Bill was amended by the upper-house, it will need to be approved again by the 88-member Legislative Assembly next week before becoming law.
In August, the lower house had approved the original version of the Bill by 47 votes to 37. That vote came as the Melbourne Diocesan Synod – meeting metres away, urged politicians to reject it.
The Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, and six other senior leaders from Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox churches took the unusual step of placing an advert in the Herald-Sun newspaper in August setting out their objection to the Bill. Their advert said that “human dignity is honoured in living life, not in taking it.”
Yesterday’s vote in the Legislative Council came after another mammoth debating session – this time lasting 28 hours. Once the Bill becomes law, patients expected to live for six-months or less – 12 months for certain degenerative conditions – will be able to request a lethal drug. Two independent medical assessments must follow in a three-step process; with the drugs provided within 10-days of the application.
The scheme will be open people aged over-18 who are deemed to be “of sound mind.” To prevent euthanasia-tourism, of the kind seen in Switzerland, patients must have lived in Victoria for 12 months prior to the application. Unless the patient is incapacitated, they must administer the lethal dose themselves.
A special board will be created to review all cases of assisted suicides – the board is one of 68 safeguards in the Bill to protect vulnerable people from abuse and coercion.
“The passing of assisted dying legislation in Victoria’s upper house is certainly a historic day, but not one I can celebrate,” Archbishop Freier said. “For Christians and others who regard human life as having absolute value, this is a dangerous and disturbing piece of legislation, though I acknowledge that proponents of the assisted dying legislation are sincere.
“It represents a momentous social shift, with many doctors concerned about what it means for their profession and their duty to preserve life,” he said. “I hope and trust that the Act will be accompanied by a greater emphasis on palliative care, and much improved funding.”