In an Australian first, the Victorian Parliament has passed voluntary euthanasia laws.
The vote in the state’s Upper House was 22-18, after a marathon session to debate amendments. The laws are expected to come into force in 2019. The bill needs to return to the lower house to accept some amendments – but this is unlikely to be more than a formality.
Lyle Shelton, head of the Australian Christian Lobby, said the move “must not spread to other states.”
“Today is the day a Parliament voted not to improve palliative care but to allow killing as a form of medical treatment,” Shelton wrote on Twitter moments after the announcement was made.
“What poisons people end up taking and what happens if they are left gagging alone on the floor at home with complications is unknown. But yeah, Go Gently,” he wrote.
ABC’s The Drum tweeted a comment by journalist Caroline Overington “My concern is, do we all believe every patients’ family is going to do the right thing? Do we all believe every nursing home + staff in it can be relied upon?”
“The passing of assisted dying legislation in Victoria’s upper house is certainly a historic day, but not one I can celebrate,” Philip Freier, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, said in a statement to Eternity. “For Christians and others who regard human life as having absolute value, this is a dangerous and disturbing piece of legislation, though I acknowledge its advocates have the highest motives.”
“It represents a momentous social shift, with many doctors concerned about what it means for their profession and their duty to preserve life.
“I hope and trust that the Act will be accompanied by a greater emphasis on palliative care, and much improved funding.”
Supporters of euthanasia had hailed the bill as the most restrictive in the world, but even tighter regulations were added to get the bill through the Upper House. They include halving the timeframe for terminally ill patients to access euthanasia from 12 months to live to six months to live.
There will be exemptions for sufferers of conditions such as motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis, who will still have a year to request to end their lives.
The Victorian criteria for patients to access euthanasia is “intolerable pain”, which is narrower than the European schemes that allow people with “mental suffering” to request medical assistance to die. The Belgian scheme has been pointed to by opponents of euthanasia as an example of a scheme being broadened. The Belgian scheme first passed in 2002 was expanded in 2014 to allow “competent minors” to request euthanasia.
David Cook, the former Moderator General (National Leader) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, recently drew a parallel between the introduction of euthanasia and the legalisation of abortion.”When abortion law reform was introduced through Australian State Parliaments in the 1970’s, it was done so, ‘under strict medical circumstances’.
“Most of us believed this was a necessary reform and that probably there were valid grounds for 1 or 2000 abortions each year in Australia. That figure has now grown to 180000 to 200000 abortions each year!
“I am now hearing the same argument for the proposed introduction of legislation allowing the termination of adult life, ‘under strict medical circumstances’.”