POLITICS

Assisted Dying Laws Pass Victoria's Lower House

The controversial proposals have seen allies pitted against each other.

20/10/2017 11:43 AM AEDT | Updated 20/10/2017 11:50 AM AEDT
Fairfax
Daniel Andrews has staked a lot of political capital on assisted dying laws.

Victoria's lower house has passed a controversial assisted dying bill that could see terminally ill people given the right to take their own lives within 18 months.

Following a mammoth debate in the lower house on Thursday night, the bill passed the house 47-37 and will now move to the upper house where numbers are tight.

Victoria's debate over assisted dying has pitted allies against each other, amid an extraordinary warning from former prime minister Paul Keating that the right to die proposal represents an "unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence".

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

The lower house was locked debate on Friday morning over the Labor Government's controversial assisted dying bill, following an all-night session in Parliament debating the proposed laws to give terminally ill people with less than a year the ability to request lethal medication.

The bill has been backed by Premier Daniel Andrews, but it's fiercely opposed by Deputy Premier James Merlino. It had been hoped the bill would pass parliament on Friday, after a night spent debating some of the hundreds of disputed amendments to the bill.

Amid this, former Labor prime minister Paul Keating weighed in, declaring the Victorian bill "unacceptable".

"Under Victorian law there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead," he wrote in Fairfax Media."No matter what justifications are offered for the bill, it constitutes an unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence and the irrevocable sanctity that should govern our understanding of what it means to be human."

'This Euthanasia Legislation Is A Recipe For Elder Abuse'

The Age
James Merlino arrives at St Paul's Cathedral in May

Merlino failed in his bid on Thursday to stop the bill proceeding through the parliament by proposing an amendment, a move that put him at odds with his premier and cabinet.

But he told the ABC he was undeterred, believing the bill deeply flawed and a "recipe for elder abuse".

There's still a long way to go," Merlino said.

My concern is proponents of this legislation will come back some time in the future and seek to expand it.

That's a view shared by Keating, who described it as "bald utopianism".

"What matters is that under Victorian law there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead," the life-long Catholic wrote.

He believes no law can authorise the termination of life in the name of compassion, while at the same time guaranteeing protection of "the vulnerable, the depressed and the poor."

"This is the point," Keating wrote.

"If there are doctors prepared to bend the rules now, there will be doctors prepared to bend the rules under the new system. Beyond that, once termination of life is authorised, the threshold is crossed."

What The Bill Proposes

  • Under the law change, people suffering from advanced and incurable diseases or medical conditions would have the option of choosing a doctor-assisted death from 2019.
  • The legislation is based on on the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by former Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Professor Brian Owler.
  • Hailed as the "most conservative" law its kind in the world, the panel recommended terminally ill Victorians aged over 18 and "of sound mind" be allowed access to lethal medication within 10 days of asking to die.
  • That request would only be approved after a three-step request process involving two independent medical assessments and if the patient is expected to die within 12 months.

'I Accept Some Of These Questions Represent Deep Philosophical Differences'

Paul Jeffers/Fairfax

Television personality and Go Gentle founder Andrew Denton has pointed out that people are currently dying in a grey area painful circumstances, including by starvation, drug-induced comas and suicide.

"What is not legal is to end your suffering quickly and painlessly at a time of your choosing with the support of your family and a medical team," he told a Go Gentle event on Monday.

In this unregulated system no questions are raised about threats to vulnerable people, no one is examining or vouching for doctors' actions and yet we are told this is safer than a system which outlines strict regulations and is held accountable by law.Andrew Denton

"It's an argument that defies logic."

In a sign of the animosity growing inside Victorian government ranks, Health Minister Jill Hennessey called Merlino a c*** in a text message accidentally sent to the deputy premier.

Hennessey and Attorney-General Martin Pakula are under pressure, having spent much of Thursday night answering questions about the bill and its language.

The Age

Hennessy said decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis while observing the argument had "hit the crossroads of existentialism".

"I am not optimistic I am going to be able to persuade you because I accept some of these [questions] represent deep philosophical differences," she said.

"It is qualified with that provision that that suffering cannot be relieved in a manner deemed tolerable to that patient."

Andrews has said any other attempts to amend the Bill would not be supported.

"This is a good Bill, it is the product of a long and considered process involving experts," Andrews said.

There's A Push For Assisted Dying Laws Throughout The Country

The Northern Territory had a bill in place for two years before the federal government revoked the its powers to make assisted dying legislation.

In March Labor and Greens MPs put forward a bill to overturn that decision, with then NT chief minister Adam Giles saying if it passed he would be "very happy and very keen to see euthanasia brought back".

South Australia had an assisted dying bill introduced into its parliament for the 14th time in February, while Tasmania is expected to debate laws this year.

A bill was introduced into the NSW parliament in September, while WA is also gearing up for a debate.

Keating's Labor predecessor, Bob Hawke, spoke up in April, saying he had discussed end-of-life options with his wife, Blanche D'Alpuget.

"I am more than happy for my name to be associated with a clear statement of belief that the time has come where we in Australia should have clear legislation on our books that makes euthanasia legal," he said.

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