Voluntary assisted dying, also known as voluntary euthanasia, is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated for many years in Australia. In recent times, there has been a growing interest and discussion about the legal, ethical, and practical aspects of voluntary assisted dying in the country.
This comprehensive guide aims to provide a thorough overview of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria, covering legal framework, eligibility and criteria, process and much more.
History of voluntary assisted dying in Australia.
Voluntary assisted dying has a long history of debate and discussion in Australia. The topic gained significant attention in the late 20th century when various attempts were made to introduce legislation allowing voluntary euthanasia.
However, these attempts faced strong opposition from different quarters, including religious groups, medical associations, and ethicists, leading to the failure of such legislation.
Legal framework for voluntary assisted dying in Victoria.
In Victoria, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 was enacted, which allows eligible adults with a terminal illness and intolerable suffering to request and receive assistance to die. A person who qualifies for voluntary assisted dying (and only that person) who is suffering toward the end of their life may select the time and method of their death after following the processes outlined under Victorian law.
According to the law, a person may receive assistance from medical professionals in order to obtain medication that they can use to terminate their life whenever they choose. The procedure guarantees that the person's choice is free and permanent, and it offers precise instructions on how medical professionals may legally assist the individual in this decision.
The law also offers a number of safeguards to guarantee that voluntary assisted dying is carried out and supervised in Victoria in a safe manner.
Eligibility and criteria for voluntary assisted dying in Victoria.
To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying in Victoria, there are strict criteria that must be met. These criteria are designed to ensure that only individuals who are genuinely suffering and near the end of life can access voluntary assisted dying.
Here is a comprehensive list of eligibility. A person is eligible for voluntary assisted dying in Victoria if they:
- are aged 18 years or over;
- an Australian citizen or permanent resident, ordinarily resident in Victoria, and, at the time of making a first request for VAD, has been resident in Victoria for at least 12 months;
- are capable of making decisions about their medical treatment and communicate those decisions throughout the assessment process
- are acting voluntarily and without coercion;
- have a disease, illness or medical condition that is:
- advanced, progressive, and will cause death.
- expected to cause death within six months, or 12 months for a person with a neurodegenerative disease, illness or medical condition, and
- causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a way that the person finds tolerable. The person’s suffering may be physical or non-physical e.g. psychological, existential.
A person will not be eligible for voluntary assisted dying based on having a disability or mental illness alone, but people who meet all other criteria, and who have a disability or mental illness, will not be denied access to voluntary assisted dying.
Process of accessing voluntary assisted dying in Victoria.
The process of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria involves several steps and there are timeframes that apply to each of the steps in the process. It typically starts with the patient expressing their interest in accessing voluntary assisted dying to their attending physician.
The request for voluntary assisted dying cannot be made on behalf of another person by a family member or caregiver. This will ensure that the request is made voluntarily, without compulsion, and that the individual's choice is their own.
In order to obtain voluntary assisted dying, a person must first be evaluated by a doctor who has the necessary qualifications to determine whether they qualify. If the patient is qualified, the process is repeated with a different physician who will need to perform another evaluation. The medical professionals will ensure that the patient is making an informed decision and is aware of the variety of palliative care options.
If the person wishes to proceed, they will need to make a written declaration that is witnessed by two independent individuals, confirming that they are making an informed, voluntary and enduring decision to access voluntary assisted dying.
When a person makes a final request, the doctor will apply for a permit to prescribe a medication that the person may use to end their life at a time of their choosing. The person must administer the medication themselves, unless they are physically unable to do so, in which case their doctor may assist. No health practitioner or healthcare provider will be obliged to participate in voluntary assisted dying.
Safeguards and protections.
The procedure outlined in the law contains a number of phases and safeguards to ensure that people are not being coerced into participating in the voluntary assisted dying process and that it is entirely voluntary. These safeguards may include multiple assessments by different healthcare professionals, mandatory waiting periods to allow for careful consideration, and the option for patients to revoke their request at any time.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board monitors all activity under the law and receives reports from all health practitioners who participate. The Board ensures the Act is being complied with. When a person is prescribed voluntary assisted dying medication they appoint a contact person so that any unused medications will be safely returned.
Additionally, there may be provisions for conscientious objection by healthcare providers who do not wish to participate in the process. These safeguards are in place to minimise the risks of abuse and ensure that voluntary assisted dying is carried out in a compassionate and responsible manner.
Final thoughts on voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is a multifaceted and sensitive topic that involves various legal, ethical, medical, and societal considerations. It provides a compassionate option for individuals who are facing intolerable suffering and wish to have control over their own end-of-life decisions. However, it also raises concerns about potential risks, abuse, and ethical implications.
Ultimately, this should be approached respectfully as it can be a sensitive topic for many. Allowing people to die on their own terms means they can have a good death where their access to care and choices are respected. Furthermore, openly discussing death and dying can help prepare families for the passing and voluntary assisted dying can keep them more involved in the process, so they can ensure they’re close by for the final goodbye.
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