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Landmark Assisted Suicide Law Passes in Australia

  • Phil Mercer

State Greens member for Western Metro Colleen Hartland and Greens member for South Eastern Metro Nina Springle give their reactions outside Parliament House during a news conference after an assisted dying vote in Melbourne, Australia, Nov. 29, 2017.

The Australian state of Victoria has become the first in the nation to legalize assisted dying. Terminally ill patients must be at least 18 years old and have less than six months to live.

Victoria state Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the state parliament had considered what a "good death looks like.” The assisted suicide law is designed for patients with a terminal illness who are in severe pain. It will allow them to obtain a lethal drug within 10 days of asking to die. They must administer the drug themselves, but a doctor can give the lethal dose where an individual is physically unable to end their own life. Patients must be of sound mind and make three requests to specially trained doctors, while a special board will review all cases.

Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews has praised the landmark legislation.

“The parliament has just made history. This is a day of reform, a day of compassion, a day of giving control to those who are terminally ill and in the terminal phase of their life,” he said.

Critics of the landmark legislation said it was “a recipe for elder abuse,” while some doctors believe it will deny patients the right to receive palliative care -- care for people who have serious illnesses.

Associate professor Mark Boughey, director of palliative medicine at Melbourne's St. Vincent's Hospital, believes the new law is a bad move.

“My biggest concern in the debate has been that I think people will not get an opportunity to access palliative care, that people will see the progression from illness and disease treatment -- the next step will be assisted dying. They will not get the benefit of engagements and referral to palliative care,” he said.

The landmark legislation was approved after more than 100 hours of grueling debate in the Victoria state parliament. The law means terminally ill patients in Australia's second-most populous state will have the right to request a lethal drug beginning in mid-2019.