Assisted dying laws one week away

Pharmacists from The Alfred hospital in Melbourne will mix and deliver the lethal doses when Victoria’s assisted dying legislation comes into effect in one week.

The three pharmacists will mix the cocktail of legal drugs and personally deliver the 100ml doses to approved terminally ill people.

The legislation, described as the most conservative in the world with 68 inbuilt safeguards, allows terminally ill adults who can show they have only about six months to live and meet other criteria, to access the lethal substance from 19 June.

Australia’s first voluntary euthanasia laws were passed in Victoria in November 2017. Assisted dying was legal for a period in the Northern Territory and, in 2013 and 2017, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia debated and failed to pass assisted dying legislation.

A terminally ill person must initiate the assisted dying request themselves and two doctors must find that person is eligible to make the request. He or she then needs to make three separate requests to end their life and meet other stringent criteria.

Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told The Age: “No matter where they [the terminally ill patients] are in Victoria, [the pharmacists] will dispense the medication to them. If there is any medication remaining, they will collect that and take it back.

“Under certain circumstances, those physically incapable of swallowing will be allowed to take the substance as a lethal intravenous drip set up by a doctor.”

Describing the final moments, the report said those choosing to end their lives would be given medication to relax and reduce any chance of regurgitation before they take the dose “which will cause unconsciousness within minutes and a peaceful, pain-free death soon after”.

Eighty-nine doctors across Victoria have begun compulsory training to gain the necessary accreditation to assist terminally ill patients wishing to die when the laws come into effect.

Ballarat Health palliative care physician Dr Greg Mewett has registered as a doctor prepared to assess a patient.

He told The Age: “There’s a small percentage of patients with advanced and incurable illness that currently don’t have an option if they have reached the limits of their suffering.

“For patients who aren’t able to relieve their suffering in any other way, it’s not an issue between life and death. These people are already proceeding towards death sooner rather than later.

“It’s about reaching the limits of your suffering and deciding how you will die and under what circumstances.”

About 150 Victorians per year are expected to make use of euthanasia laws, although that number could be as low as 12 in the first 12 months, the Health Minister said.

Ms Mikakos said she was confident the scheme was safe and compassionate, and would provide people with relief from intolerable suffering at the end of life.

“I see this as being one of the most important things I will be involved in during my time as health minister and I’m very conscious of the weight of responsibility to get this right.”

She said a Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board had been established to review each case.

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Written by Janelle Ward

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