The Victorian Government will introduce its assisted dying bill to parliament on Wednesday, as the head of the Australian Medical Association warns its passage "would be a victory for fear over hope".
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. Parliament is expected to have a conscience vote by the end of the year.
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.
The person applying must be an an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and they must be ordinarily a resident in Victoria -- meaning they must live in the state.
Coaxing the terminally ill into seeking to end their lives would be punishable by up to five years' jail under the proposed laws.
"This will be, because we've listened to the experts, the most conservative model in the world, with many safeguards, to give people the option they have been denied far too long," Premier Daniel Andrews said outside parliament on Wednesday.
"We think we can get this balance right, and give to people a choice for them to be empowered, for them to have control over the last stage of their life."
He said every year dozens of Victorians try to take matters into their own hands.
"Sometimes they're successful, sometimes they're not. It seems strange to use the term successful, they are often violent, lonely ends. We can do much better than that."
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) September 19, 2017
Some are not convinced, however.
Writing for the HuffPost Australia, Australian Medical Association President Michael Gannon said the move to voluntary euthanasia would be a negative for society, and represented "a victory for fear over hope".
"Euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide in no way makes our society safer or better," Gannon said.
"In other parts of the world, the legislation has been changed so it can be used against vulnerable groups. In the Netherlands and Belgium, it has been extended to involve children. In other jurisdictions, it can be used against the disabled and the demented.
"While not all our members agree, the AMA opposes any interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person's life."
Earlier this week, three prominent doctors warned the state was going down a "misguided, dangerous path."
Stephen Parnis, Mukesh Haikerwal and Mark Yates -- former senior officials of the Australian Medical Association –- told The Age they would be lobbying MPs up until the bill is tabled on Wednesday.
"This puts the most frail and vulnerable in our community -– the dying -– at profound risk," Dr Parnis said.
"They are at risk of coercion. They are at risk of not getting the medical care that they deserve and need."
The Bill's safeguards include:
- Only adults with decision making capacity, who are suffering and are in the final weeks and months of life, with an outer limit of 12 months, can access the scheme
- A person may only access voluntary assisted dying if they meet strict eligibility criteria, make three clear requests and have two independent medical assessments that determine they are eligible
- The request must always be initiated by the person themselves, with doctors who raise the issue subject to professional misconduct investigations.
In June, Victoria's inquiry into end of life choices final report recommended the state legalise assisted dying under strict conditions. If passed, the laws would be the first in the country since the Federal Government quashed a Northern Territory euthanasia law in 1996.
In December, the Victorian AMA said it is imperative that the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments adequately fund high-quality public and community based palliative care services.
"Palliative care must be freely available to all who have a terminal condition or who require management of the symptoms of chronic and incurable medical conditions," President of AMA Victoria Lorraine Baker said.