Assisted suicide under debate

Tasmania’s politicians are considering whether assisted suicide should be legalised in the state.

The 157-page End of Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill 2020 was tabled by Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney on August 27 with debate beginning in the Legislative Council on September 15.

The proposed Tasmanian legislation will make it legal for medical practitioners to provide a lethal substance to end the life of a patient who is suffering a medication condition, disease, illness or injury that is advanced and believed to be incurable and irreversible, and which is expected to cause their death – and if there is no reasonably available treatment that is acceptable to the patient.

The person must also be ‘suffering intolerably’ in relation to the medical condition, must have decision-making capacity, and be acting voluntarily.

To be suffering intolerably is explained by the bill as suffering either from the medical condition, or that condition combined with others, anticipation of suffering from the condition or from treatment, from complications that may arise, or of anticipation of complications.

Mental illness or disability alone would not make someone eligible.

There is no limit on projected life span for a Tasmanian to be eligible to access assisted suicide, but for those who want to self-administer the substance, they will need to have an estimated life span of no more than six months – or twelve months for those who have a neurodegenerative condition.

Those who die under the proposed legislation will not have suicide listed as their cause of death. Instead, the medical condition which formed the basis for their assisted suicide request will be listed.

In 2018 Victoria passed a bill legalising assisted suicide, which came into effect in June 2019.

Last year Western Australia passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 which will see the state also begin assisted suicide in mid-2021.

Unlike Victoria, doctors in Tasmania would be allowed to raise the subject of assisted suicide with their patients – if the bill passes.

Those seeking assisted suicide will need to make three requests to die – each at least 48 hours apart. If applications are processed quickly, a Tasmanian could be dead within a week.

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