23:57, September 20 111 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-20 23:57:03
Victorians overwhelmingly support voluntary euthanasia, survey finds

As the Victorian parliament ponders an historic vote to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill, a new survey shows the public overwhelmingly back the reform, with most Victorians saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if they supported voluntary euthanasia.

The survey of 500 Victorian adults, conducted in late July on behalf of assisted dying advocacy group Go Gentle Australia, also found that public approval for voluntary euthanasia laws was stronger than their support for other key social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Overall, 72% of Victorians supported the right of adults “to choose to end their lives if they are suffering from a terminal illness”. Only 13% were opposed, with 15% having a neutral view.

Support was higher among Labor voters (78%) than Coalition voters (55%). Almost 95% of Greens supporters backed change.

When the question was framed to reflect the proposed laws in Victoria, 77% backed adults being able to choose to end their life “if they are suffering from an incurable disease that is advanced, progressive and will cause death, and which is causing suffering that cannot be relieved”.

The online poll, conducted by research company Review Partners, is consistent with other surveys across Australia. Since the Northern Territory’s voluntary euthanasia laws were overturned by the federal parliament in 1997, no state parliament has passed similar legislation, despite many attempts and strong public backing for change.

Supporters of assisted dying say the Victorian voluntary assisted dying bill, introduced to parliament this week, has a good chance of being passed, which would open the way for other states considering reform.

Graph on Go Gentle survey on assisted dying

The poll found majority support across all ages, genders and educational levels. It had strong approval whether people lived in cities or in the country.

It found little risk of an electoral backlash for Victorian MPs who vote for assisted dying, with 56% of respondents saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if they supported the legislation. Only 9% said they would be less likely, with 35% saying it would make no difference. More women than men would favour candidates who voted for reform.

Even for conservative MPs, the risk appears slight. On a two-party preferred basis, for those intending to vote for the Liberal National coalition, led by opposition leader Matthew Guy, 42% would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported legalising assisted dying, while just 14% would be less likely.

Guy opposes assisted dying laws, but all MPs will have a conscience vote when the bill is debated next month.

Support was more emphatic for Labor supporters. For those intending to vote for the ALP, led by the premier, Daniel Andrews, 66% would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backed voluntary euthanasia, with just 6% less likely. Just over 70% of Greens voters would look favourably on a candidate who voted for change, as would 51% of One Nation voters.

About a quarter of respondents agreed with three main arguments against assisted dying – that medicine should be only used to prolong life, not to end it, that it could become “out of control” and lead to unjustified killing, and that “life is given by God and only God has the right to take it away”. But for each statement, at least half the population disagreed.

The poll indicated that Victorians would approve if the proposed law was more liberal. The bill limits assistance to terminally ill people likely to die within 12 months, whereas 63% of respondents would allow it for dementia or Alzheimer’s sufferers who had signed an advanced directive indicating their wish to end their life. The Victorian law will not allow assistance in these cases.

With a bitter debate about same-sex marriage underway in Australia, the Go Gentle study indicated that support for assisted dying was stronger than support for allowing same-sex couples to marry.

It measured support for nine current issues involving individual choice. It found 64% of people backed same-sex marriage, 63% the right to terminate a pregnancy, and 48% the right of people to choose whether to vote. At the other extreme, only 13% approve of a right for Australians to carry guns.

The Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy told parliament on Thursday that the assisted dying bill was “uniquely Victorian”.

It “balances a compassionate outcome for these people at the end of their lives who are suffering, and providing community protection through the establishment of robust safeguards and comprehensive oversight”.

She said that the vast majority of Victorians would never use the law, but for a small number of people at their end of their lives, “palliative care cannot ease their pain and suffering”. The survey had a margin of error of 3%.

It comes as New South Wales is also debating assisted dying with a cross-party bill introduced to the parliament on Thursday.

Nationals MP Trevor Khan tabled the legislation in the state’s upper house.

“The bill is restricted to the terminally ill whose deaths are imminent,” Khan told parliament.

The proposed legislation would give people aged over 25 with less than 12 months to live the option of ending their life. Safeguards and sanctions designed to protect against coercion and elder abuse are outlined in the bill.