Final Report Released for Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017

Monday 24 July 2017 @ 11.51 a.m. | Legal Research

Last week (21 July 2017), the final report from the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Voluntary Assisted Dying was delivered in Victoria detailing the Panel's recommendations for a safe and compassionate voluntary assisted dying framework for Victoria.

Background to the Report

In December 2016, the Victorian Government announced its intention to commence consultations for a voluntary assisted dying framework in Victoria. An expert Ministerial Advisory Panel (the Panel) was established and a discussion paper was released on 25 January 2017 to facilitate this process with a view to developing a safe and considered framework for the proposed legislation.

In March 2017, a policy paper was developed and the interim report was delivered by the Panel on 28 April 2017.

Terms of Reference

Taking the assisted dying framework as outlined by the Legal and Social Issues Committee (a Federal Parliamentary Committee) as the starting point, the Panel’s task was to provide advice to government about how a compassionate and safe legislative framework for voluntary assisted dying could be implemented. This was deemed to include how it could be implemented in Victoria to provide access to eligible people while minimising risks to potentially vulnerable people.

The Panel was asked to consider relevant policy and legal issues including:

  1. The terms used in the final report and the necessary definitions required for the drafting of appropriately clear legislation such as:
    1. ‘irreparable decline’;
    2. ‘a serious and incurable condition’;
    3. when a person may be ‘physically unable to administer medication’; and
    4. any other key terms or concepts the Panel considers relevant.
  2. The eligibility criteria and how this can be clearly defined in a legislative framework;
  3. The risks to individuals and the community associated with voluntary assisted dying, and how these can be managed;
  4. Safeguards to address risks and procedures for assessing requests for voluntary assisted dying;
  5. The protection of medical practitioners’ freedom of conscience;
  6. The appropriate oversight mechanisms;
  7. Integration with existing laws and agencies; and
  8. Interaction with the existing healthcare system, including consideration of the necessary clinical and consumer tools and resources and appropriate community information and support.

As part of the consultation process, the Panel received 176 written submissions to the discussion paper and conducted 14 consultation forums across metropolitan and regional Victoria, attended by approximately 300 people.

Recommendations in the Final Report

The 265 page final report sets out the Panel's recommendations for access to voluntary assisted dying for a limited number of adult Victorians who are at the end of their lives and suffering.

The final report is split into the following four identifying parts with a total of 66 recommendations suggested by the Panel:

  • Guiding Principles - 1 recommendation;
  • Part A - Eligibility Criteria - 5 recommendations;
  • Part B - Request and Assessment Process - 33 recommendations;
  • Part C - Oversight - 16 recommendations;
  • Part D - Implementation - 9 recommendations

Reaction to the Final Report

As discussed in The Conversation, despite this being the latest of more than 50 bills regarding voluntary assisted dying in Australia, this Victorian proposal is "a narrow assisted dying model with a lot of safeguards."

Additionally, as stated by The Age, it is essential that people fulfill seven key criteria:

"including that they are expected to die within a year, are aged over 18, have an incurable disease that will cause death and have a medical condition that is causing suffering that "cannot be relieved in a manner that is deemed tolerable."

The panel additionally said while it accepted the loss of cognitive capacity may cause distress to some people "voluntary assisted dying must be 'voluntary' – that is, a person must have the decision-making capacity to make an autonomous choice – at all stages of the process". People with a mental illness or a disability would only be able to access euthanasia if they had a terminal illness and fulfill the other criteria.

Greens MLC Robin Chapple said the fact the change had attracted support at the highest level in Victoria was encouraging:

"For a premier to take on the role of committing to introduce legislation, we move closer and closer to a position of being able to help those people in extreme suffering to have some dignity and some respite at the end of their lives...This doesn't take away in any way, shape or form the really good work of palliative care."

The Victorian Government has stated they will introduce a bill in the second half of 2017, and, if passed, they could be the first laws in Australia to legalise euthanasia, as the Victorian laws would be immune from Commonwealth intervention like the quashing of the Northern Territory's similar laws by the Federal Government in past years.

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