Euthanasia now legal in Victoria

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Euthanasia now legal in Victoria

Euthanasia is now legal in Victoria, after legislation passed in 2017 came into effect today.

The legalisation of euthanasia will allow residents of Victoria access to medication that will end their life.

A number of criteria apply, including a natural life expectancy due to disease of no more than six months, and experiencing 'intolerable suffering'.

Those with a neurodegenerative condition can have a life expectancy of 12 months.

Those seeking euthanasia will need to be 18 years of age or older, and have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months.

Training videos for doctors in relation to legalised ‘voluntary assisted dying’ can be viewed on the State Government’s Health website, covering topics like initial patient discussions, identifying coercion and discussing with a patient how to administer the lethal medicine.

A Statewide Pharmacy Service has been set up by the Victorian Government to deliver the lethal medication, and will travel anywhere in Victoria to personally deliver the medicine to patients, who must administer it to themselves.

Located at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, the pharmacy service will be the sole provider of the medicine used for euthanasia.

The medicine will be provided free of charge, with the costs covered by the Victorian Government.

The composition of the medicine used has not been publicly released.

A new set of support personnel has been established to assist Victorians through the process of accessing euthanasia. Called Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigators, there are currently only two in the state, but – according the Health website – the Government plans to establish a statewide service of navigators.

For those who die by euthanasia, the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages will record the patient’s terminal illness as the cause of death, but will record the manner of death as ‘voluntary assisted dying’.

The Catholic bishops of Victoria have released a pastoral letter addressing the legalisation of euthanasia, describing it as “a new and deeply troubling chapter of health care in Victoria”.

“Christians in Victoria, as in any other time of history, are now challenged to show a different approach to death and the dying, one which accompanies every person as they are dying and allows them to love and to be loved to the very end. We cannot cooperate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness,” Bishop Paul Bird of the Diocese of Ballarat, Bishop Leslie Tomlinson of the Diocese of Sandhurst, Bishop Patrick O’Regan of the Diocese of Sale, and Archbishop Peter Comensoli of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, stated in the letter.

They noted that Pope Francis has encouraged ordinary Catholics everywhere to resist euthanasia and protect the vulnerable from the ‘throw-away culture’.

“All of us who hold a principled opposition to euthanasia are now, in effect, conscientious objectors.”

The bishops listed a number of objections to the legalisation of euthanasia, including a lack of adequate funding for ‘excellent’ palliative care; the unnecessary taking of a human life; state-sponsored practices that facilitate suicide; and “the lazy idea that the best response our community can offer a person in acute suffering is to end their life”.

“We will not abandon those we love, and we believe that they have a right to be loved from the beginning to the end of their life.”

Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family for the Archdiocese of Hobart, says he is concerned that similar legislation may soon be introduced into Tasmania, and the flow-on effects of legalising euthanasia.

“Based on international experience in different cultures – Canada, the Netherlands, America – it’s very clear that over time this grows,” Mr Smith said.

“The boundaries shift … it moves into other categories of illness, it moves into involuntary euthanasia, it impacts the medical profession, nursing homes, reduction of palliative care. It just has a logic of its own,” he said.

“Once you say ‘you’re better off dead’, then you start to have questions of: Do you treat or not? Do you just offer the final exit, so to speak? There’s a logic that tends to establish and once that really gathers, it creates a culture of death – which is what Pope John Paul II spoke all about.”