November 29, 2017
(AFP) - An Australian state Wednesday became the first in the country to legalise assisted dying, or euthanasia, with lawmakers voting to allow terminally ill patients the right to request a lethal drug to end their lives.
The legislation, which takes effect from June 2019, was passed in Victoria after 100 hours of often fiery debate, making it the only place in Australia where the practice will be legal.
State Premier Daniel Andrews, who supported the bill after the death of his father last year and allowed a conscience vote in parliament, said people should have the right to "choose to be in control of the last part of their journey".
"For too long, we have denied, to too many, the compassion, the control, the power that should be theirs in those final moments of their life," he said.
"I'm proud today that we have put compassion right at the centre of our parliamentary and our political process. That is politics at its best."
Jen Barnes, who has a tumour on her brain that is growing and inoperable, welcomed the decision as giving people like her a choice.
"I just want to know that it's there, the option is there," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"It's unlikely that I would see it come through for me because I'm not likely to be here in 18 months' time. But for the future, I think it's the right way to go."
The 18-month delay before the bill takes effect was to finalise details, including deciding which drug, or cocktail of drugs, would be best.
- 'Safest in the world' -
The scheme will be accessible only to terminally ill patients over 18 living in Victoria for at least a year and with less than six months to live, down from an originally proposed 12 months.
There will, however, be exemptions for sufferers of conditions such as motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis who have a life expectancy of one year.
Those applying must be determined by multiple doctors to be suffering intolerable pain and be of sound mind.
They will then be given a lethal drug within 10 days of asking to die, which they administer themselves. If they are not capable, a doctor can help.
"I hope the implementation of this bill really does start to give people some hope and some compassion that a good death will in fact be possible for people who are enduring difficult end of lives," said state Health Minister Jill Hennessy.
Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula said robust debate on the issue had ensured there were ample safeguards.
"We have ensured we have compassionate legislation while still giving Victorians the protections and safeguards they need - making this the most conservative and safest scheme in the world," he said.
Assisted suicide is illegal in most countries around the world and until now had been banned in Australia, although it was legal for a time in the Northern Territory before the law was overturned in the 1990s.
When legal there, prominent Australian right-to-die campaigner Philip Nitschke became the first doctor in the world to administer a legal, voluntary, lethal injection to end a life.
He went on to do the same for three other people.
Other states in Australia have debated assisted dying in the past, but the proposals have always been defeated, mostly recently in New South Wales in September.