The government of the Australian state of Victoria is looking to legalize euthanasia in 2017, but physicians have warned of the risk of diminishing palliative care, already underutilized and underfunded.
A committee of Victorian Members of Parliament recommended in June
legalizing voluntary euthansia under limited circumstances, after
looking at similar laws elsewhere.
A panel was then established to
advise the government on an appropriate model, and the government's
deadline to respond is Dec. 9.
The committee had recommended allowing euthanasia for adults of sound
mind who have a serious, incurable condition.
They must make a
voluntary written request, repeated thrice.
Finalized legislation will be presented to the Victoria parliament next year for a conscience vote.
Fiona Patten, leader of the Australian Sex Party and a Victoria MP,
has said that “allowing terminally ill people the right to die when they
choose, with dignity, is not only compassionate but common sense.”
Within recent weeks, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has been more
outspoken on the subject, claiming the potential act as “a way forward.”
Margaret Tighe, president of the Right to Life Australia, spoke out
against Andrews, saying his support for euthanasia disregards the
problems which have arisen in other places where it was legalized.
Doctors in Victoria are also concerned with potential risks of the
new act, including diminished funding for palliative care and a lack of
President of the Australian Medical Association Victoria, Lorraine
Baker, stated that “palliative care must be freely available to all who
have a terminal condition or who require management of the symptoms of
chronic and incurable medical conditions.”
A professor from St. Vincent's Health, Peter Hudson, has warned
Victoria's government that the assisted suicide system has not been
thoroughly tested, and may offer the necessary support only when it is
Under the proposal, “if you elect assisted suicide you're going to be
guaranteed certain supports, whereas if you don't, your chances of
getting comprehensive, quality palliative care are less than likely,”
Hudson told ABC.
Hudson also expressed a belief that the state's politicians have are
naive about how quick and painless a death can be expected with
“There's an assumption that if assisted suicide or euthanasia is
supported, then people who avail themselves of this will have a kind of
sanitised, completely pain-free death, and that can't be guaranteed … we
have evidence in jurisdictions where euthanasia has been supported that
for some people, they actually regurgitate the medications they've been
given, some people have had seizures, and some people actually it takes
them a very long time to die.”
Professor Mark Boughey, a colleague of Hudson's, believes palliative
care has significantly improved within the last 50 years, and is a
better option than euthanasia.
Palliative care should be “a standard of care, but at the moment, the
standard of care and the referral processes just don't exist,” he
He recommended first prioritizing palliative care, before looking into euthanasia.
“Let's see what happens to our community if we enable quality
palliative care rather than launching in to investing in euthanasia and
physician-assisted suicide at this point in time.”
Should Victoria legalize euthanasia, it would be the first Australian
state to do so. It had been legal in the Northern Territory through a
1995 act, but that act was overturned in 1997.