Assisted dying bill concerns

November 08, 2017

While Victorian MPs remain divided over the voluntary assisted dying bill, the proposed legislation came one step closer to enactment last week.

While Victorian MPs remain divided over the voluntary assisted dying bill, the proposed legislation came one step closer to enactment last week.

Having passed through the upper house 22 votes to 18, the bill will now go to the committee stage, facing further scrutiny.

Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes, who voted in favour of the voluntary assisted dying bill, said it is the culmination of extensive consultation with an array of experts who have coalface experience.

‘‘The bill is about a choice that is unique to the individual for whom death is both inevitable and imminent, while also respecting the personal convictions of our medical professionals and providing them with choices,’’ she said.

‘‘There is nothing in this legislation that would compel any medical practitioner or authorised nurse practitioner to provide medical assistance in dying. This is all about finding the right balance.

‘‘The bill provides a choice to a small group of people — a choice that is informed, with safeguards, checks, balances and supports to ensure that the system is robust, compassionate and protective of anyone who wishes to undertake it.’’

On the other hand Member for Euroa Steph Ryan, who was in favour of voluntary assisted dying 12 months ago, voted against the proposed legislation last week.

The government’s failure to adequately invest in palliative care, she said, was her chief concern with the bill, leading her to change tack.

‘‘I worry that without proper investment in palliative care services, some people will be driven to access voluntary assisted dying because they feel there is no other option,’’ she said.

‘‘Voluntary assisted dying must be a last resort, not a first resort.

‘‘If the government truly wants to provide people with end-of-life options, it cannot step back from the need to address the provision of palliative care.’’

Ms Ryan also cited concerns about the uncertainty of which drug will be used.

‘‘I feel that we are being asked to take a giant leap of faith by simply handing over control to an implementation task force to devise and research a concoction of drugs,’’ she said.

However, speaking to The Telegraph on Monday, Ms Symes responded to the Member for Euroa’s concerns.

‘‘Our legislation does not specify the drugs that would be used — it’s going to be left to medical experts, and I think that is more than appropriate,’’ she said.

More importantly, Ms Symes said she agrees palliative care is the most important assistance for people facing terminal illness.

But after visiting hospices in the US state of Oregon, where assisted dying has been legal for 20 years, she believes a similar regime can successfully co-exist with palliative care.

‘‘In Oregon they explained the mere existence of the medication at the end actually improved palliative care outcomes for many of their patients, because they’re not waking up every day worrying about how much pain they’re going to be in at the end,’’ she said.

‘‘[Instead] they’re waking up responding well to the palliative care, knowing that if they can’t keep going, they’ve got an option at the end.

‘‘So I just don’t think it’s an either/or situtation.’’

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