Victoria, Australia law passes the upper house

Excellent news from Australia. Further to our previous report, the upper house of the Australian state of Victoria has passed a Voluntary Assisted Dying bill. The bill passed by 22 to 18 after a 28 hour sitting. The progress is reported in this Guardian article.

The debate in the upper house caused some amendments to the original bill, in particular, one which tightened the life-expectancy requirement from 12 months to 6 months unless the patient is suffering a neurodegenerative illness such as motor neuron disease. Although this is more restrictive than MDMD would like to see, as it is unlikely to be applicable to early stage dementia patients who would wish to end their lives while they still have the mental capacity to do so, this is a welcome step forward beyond the rigid six-month life expectancy criterion used by states such as Oregon in USA, and proposed for the UK in September 2015. The changes to the Victoria bill still need to be ratified by the lower house, but this is reported to be a formality which will be completed next week.

The Guardian article cautions “The law comes into operation in June 2019. … The next state election is due in November next year and already opponents are saying they will campaign to have the law repealed before it ever commences.” Although the battle is not yet over, very significant progress has been made.

Looking at how and why such progress came about in Victoria, the Guardian article identifies the following factors in its interviews with those involved in the debate there:

  • The process was sponsored by the Victoria government, rather than it being a private members’ bill. This gave it significant additional resources and authority.
  • The Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, supported the Bill. Andrews, a Catholic, changed his mind on assisted dying after his father died of cancer last year.
  • There was a properly informed debate. The facts were used to overcome the unfounded fears and uncertainties spread by those opposed to the bill.

How long will we, in the UK, have to wait until we have a government in tune with the electorate on this issue? Perhaps when we have a prime minister who has witnessed at first hand the demise of a close relative with dementia, when the person’s rational requests for a medically assisted death are refused, or when the person takes their own life in desperation, like Sir Nicholas Wall did earlier this year. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in England and Wales. Many more die with it rather than of it. Dementia sufferers who seek a medically assisted death can obtain one, provided they act while they still have the mental capacity to make a life ending decision. However, they can only do this by going through the arduous process of arranging it in Switzerland. A recent report shows how difficult this process is.