More than 50 Victorians have utilised new assisted dying laws

Doug Hendrie

19/02/2020 2:46:38 PM

A total of 52 people have chosen their time to die under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act in its first six months.

Assisted dying
To date, there has been no evidence of coercion in the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act – a key concern of early opponents of assisted dying.

Nine of the 52 deaths were assisted by a doctor administering the medication, while the remaining 43 took the substance themselves. 
More than 370 doctors have now either finished or are undertaking the four hours of training required to participate. Of these, a third are in rural Victoria.
The number of people who have accessed assisted dying is substantially higher than the State Government’s estimate of around 12 in the first year of the the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act. The Government expects numbers will rise to around 100–150 per year and stabilise there, based on overseas experience.

The new figures come from the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board’s latest report.

Betty King, Chair of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board and former Supreme Court justice, told reporters in Melbourne that she had seen no evidence of pressure placed on the 52 terminally ill people who ended their lives.
‘I have not seen – and I have been looking, believe me – I have seen no indication of any type of coercion,’ she said.
‘The feedback has been predominantly about how peaceful it was, how it was fabulous for my parent or my loved one to be able to choose, to be surrounded by family, to play music and to just quietly go to sleep, and we all sat there and rejoiced at the end at the fact that they’ve had a wonderful life,.

‘The Board can confirm that all reviewed cases within the first six months of the Act were compliant with the law.’
In the Act’s first six months from June to December 2019, 136 people started the process, with 81 given permits to die after being confirmed as having incurable, advanced and progressive medical conditions with the mental capacity to decide for themselves.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the ‘nation-leading laws’ are giving Victorians a compassionate choice over the timing and method of dying and relief from their suffering.
‘Among the most moving conversations I’ve had as Health Minister has been with family members who are grateful to have seen a loved one fulfil their wishes, and to have had the opportunity to say goodbye,’ she said.
She told reporters there is high demand, despite strict criteria.
‘We always knew that it was going to be very strict eligibility – that was what the parliament intended – but, nevertheless, there is strong demand from the community,’ she said.
The medication used acts to cause drowsiness within minutes, with unconsciousness expected 10–20 minutes later. Death usually follows within two hours.
While the Victorian Government has not named the exact drug, or combination of drugs, it is thought to be similar to pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate.
Pentobarbital – often known by a brand name Nembutal – has previously been imported illegally for use by people who wish to end their lives.
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