01:12, November 22 586 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-22 01:12:03
Victoria poised to become first Australian state to legalise euthanasia after historic vote

Victoria is on the verge of becoming the first Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying, after the upper house finally approved the right of terminally ill people to request assistance to end their lives.

The historic bill was passed by 22 votes to 18 after a gruelling and often often bitter all-night debate. The chamber began the session on Tuesday just after noon, sitting for more than 28 hours straight. Supportive MPs quietly wept after it became clear the bill would pass.

The government was forced to agree to significant amendments to pass the law, which will next week go back to the lower house for approval. This is considered a formality, as members there passed the bill comfortably 47-37 last month.

Fiona Patten MP (@FionaPattenMLC)

Last vote at 6am for the voluntary assisted dying bill was 22 for and 14 against. After 2 days of speeches and 20+ hours of debate. It is time to put the bill to bed and us! #springst @abcmelbourne

November 16, 2017

The state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said the state was “one final step away” from legalising assisted dying.

Victoria will become the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise assisted dying since the Northern Territory’s short-lived Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was overturned by federal parliament in 1997. It will mean that from 19 June 2019 terminally ill Victorians with less than six months to live (or 12 months for neurodegenerative illnesses such as motor neurone disease) can request a prescription for lethal drugs to end their life.

There have been more than 50 attempts by state parliaments to pass similar laws in the past two decades but all failed, despite public opinion showing support for assisted dying as high as 80%. Last week, a NSW bill failed in the upper house by a single vote.

The Victorian upper house moved into its eighth day considering the bill on Wednesday. The house was recalled for a special sitting this week. It had adjourned on Friday after the Labor MP Daniel Mulino collapsed in his office and was rushed to hospital after another all-night sitting.

The special minister of state, Gavin Jennings, who led the carriage of the bill in the chamber, accused opponents of filibustering, asking the same questions again and again, and seeking clarifications that had been given multiple times.

Joshua Morris MP (@JoshuaMorrisMP)

We've been sitting so long (over 26 hrs) that an MP has managed to find themselves in the chamber with a navy jacket and black trousers, beware dressing in the dark... #springst

November 22, 2017

“How many times are you going to ask the same questions?” a frustrated Jennings asked of one MP during debate. Earlier he said that when opponents “run out of arguments, they just keep regurgitating either extracts from articles or try to delay the passage of the legislation”. Opponents said it was a flawed bill that deserved detailed scrutiny.

Just before the final vote was taking, Jennings, close to tears, said it was a “momentous day” in Victoria. People his age remembered the day when former US president John F Kennedy died. “From this generation onwards, people will remember this day for a different reason,” he said.

The upper house debate was noticeably tense at times, with MPs saying they heard an interjection of “Nazi” at one point last week and opponents referring to the drugs to be prescribed to patients as “poison”. Opponents such as the Christian conservative Bernie Finn spoke of his fear of an emerging “death industry in Victoria”.

Shayne Higson (@ShayneHigson)

I am disgusted to wake up and hear opponents in the Victorian upper house still filibustering in the #VAD debate. Bernie Finn is still talking about 'killing', 'poison' and 'the victim'. This is outrageous and embarrassing for our country. #springst

November 21, 2017

Opponents pushed the government on how it could guarantee that no person would be coerced into using the law. They also criticised the funding for palliative care in Victoria as inadequate, although in recent days the government announced a boost of $62m over five years.

Supporters emphasised multiple safeguards in the scheme. The premier, Daniel Andrews, had insisted there would be no amendments, but the government was forced to horse-trade with wavering MPs in the upper house to ensure its passage.

Changes included reducing the patient’s life expectancy from 12 months to six months (except for neurodegenerative conditions) and an insistence that a patient must have been an ordinary Victorian resident for a year to be eligible. Voluntary assisted dying will also be recorded on the person’s death certificate as the “manner” of death, which was not included in the original proposal. The cause of death will be recorded as the underlying illness.

The bill passed with the support of Liberal MPs Mary Wooldridge, Ed O’Donohue, Bruce Atkinson and Simon Ramsay.

Independent MP James Purcell also voted for the bill, along with five Greens and the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten.

The scheme, which the government says will be the most conservative in the world, will permit adults with decision making capacity who have been diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and will cause death to seek assistance to die if life expectancy is within six months. They must also be experiencing suffering that cannot be relieved in a way acceptable to them.

They need to make three requests, including one in writing, and two experienced doctors need to independently assess the patient and agree that he or she is eligible.

The scheme anticipates that a patient will be prescribed lethal drugs that they take themselves, except in rare circumstances when the patient cannot physically inject the drugs, when a lethal injection may be administered.

Jennings has said the government expects about 328 people to apply to use the law each year, with about half meeting the criteria.

Victoria will join jurisdictions that have legalised assisted dying or voluntary euthanasia, including six American states, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton tweeted that the Victorian parliament had “voted not to improve palliative care but to allow killing as a form of medical treatment. This must not spread to other states.” He asked what would happen if people who take lethal drugs “are left gagging alone on the floor at home with complications”.

Lyle Shelton (@LyleShelton)

Breaking: VIC Parlt votes 22/18 for assisted suicide. What poisons people end up taking & what happens if they are left gagging alone on the floor at home with complications is unknown. But yeah, Go Gently.

November 22, 2017

The former federal president of the Australian Medical Association, Prof Brian Owler, told Guardian Australia that it was a “historic piece of legislation”.

“There are a number of other states that have been looking at it, Western Australia as an active process at the moment, the bill was narrowly defeated in the upper house in NSW, as well as in the last 12 months SA and Tasmania,” he said.

“There are moves in the federal parliament to restore the rights of the territories to legislate this for themselves. It will have implications for the rest of the country.”

Owler was disappointed in the amendment that would mean a person who used the scheme would have assisted during recorded as the manner of death on their death certificate. “I don’t think that’s anyone’s business,” he said.

Earlier this week an assisted dying bill failed to pass by one vote in the New South Wales upper house.