In June 2015, the Victorian Government tabled a Final Report of its inquiry into end of life choices in Victoria.
The Report’s recommendations considered 1037 submissions from individuals and stakeholder organisations, as well as evidence given at public hearings, briefings, site visits and overseas research.
The Report indicated that a growing proportion of society considers it is important for people to have the option of having a legal assisted death when the time comes, rather than facing the potential of dying painfully or having to take their own life when their suffering becomes unendurable. The Report, however, also heard from those individuals and stakeholders who have valid concerns about a legislative framework that legalises assisted dying for members of the Victorian community.
The Report’s recommendations were numerous and related not only to the question of assisted dying, but also to, for example, the palliative care system in Victoria.
The Report’s key finding was that a change in the law is required to prevent Victorians from “dying terribly” and spending their last days and weeks in intolerable pain that cannot be alleviated by palliative care and medication. Such a situation can ultimately lead to patients taking their own lives or medical practitioners assisting their patients to die, in the knowledge that in doing so, the law will not protect them. The Report found that maintaining the status quo or enforcing the current legal framework were inadequate responses to the issue.
So what does the Report’s proposed assisted dying framework look like?
In recommending that the law be changed, the Report pointed to clear evidence from overseas that assisted dying can be provided in a way that guards against abuse and protects the community by the implementation of “robust, transparent, accountable frameworks,” in a way that unlawful and unregulated assisted dying does not.
While the framework will not assume any Victorian has a “right” to assisted dying, nor will it force any health practitioner or health service to participate in assisted dying, it will allow an:
- adult patient;
- with decision making capacity;
- who is at the end of life; and
- has a “serious and incurable condition which is causing enduring and unbearable suffering”
to request to be assisted to die. This would be either in the form of the prescription of a lethal drug for the patient to administer independently, or, if the patient is physically unable do so themselves, a doctor will be permitted to administer the drug to the patient.
Interestingly, the Report found that “Victorian values” do not support assisted dying for:
- those without legal capacity;
- those with mental illness rather than physical illness; or
- those with a request as part of an advanced care plan or directive.