Breaking News: Victoria has Become the First State in Australia to Legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying

In December 2016, the Victorian Government first announced its intention to commence the proposed legislation for voluntary assisted dying framework in Victoria. On 29 November 2017, the Victorian Parliament passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. From 19 June 2019, Victorians who are eligible to access a voluntary assisted death, will be allowed such request.

Who is eligible to use the law?

Voluntary assisted dying is only available to Victorians who are over the age of 18 years, an Australian citizen or permanent resident, of sound mind (capable of making sound decisions, give informed consent and communicate their decision) and who have been diagnosed with an incurable disease/condition that causes unrelieved suffering and has a life expectancy of fewer than 6 months, or no more than 12 months for those with a neurodegenerative diagnosis.

What are the steps taken?

Firstly, the patient must make a verbal request, the person choosing to end their life must be the one to make the decision and cannot be made by anyone else on their behalf (Doctors who suggest voluntary assisted dying to patients will face a professional misconduct investigation).

The Doctor must then assess the patient to determine their eligibility for the scheme in the first instance. Once assessed, the patient must then make a written request to an alternative doctor in the form of a declaration, signed in the presence of two witnesses. The alternative doctor will also perform another assessment of the patient to confirm their eligibility for this scheme.

Once this is undertaken, the patient then must make a final verbal request to the co-ordinating doctor, at least nine days after the first request. The co-ordinating doctor will then conduct a final review to certify the request and assessments.

They will then apply for the voluntary assisted dying permit, either for self-administration or practitioner administration, depending on the assessment of the patient. Once the application is submitted, it is handed to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, who will review and approve the request for voluntary assisted deaths.

If a patient wanting to use the scheme does not agree with the decision made by either doctor who assessed their eligibility to do so, the patient may apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to review the decision.

In reviewing the doctors’ decisions, VCAT will consider the following issues in determining whether a patient meets the eligibility requirements for the scheme:

  • The patient usually lives in Victoria;
  • The patient was usually a resident of Victoria for at least 12 months at the time of making his or her first request for access to voluntary assisted dying; and
  • The patient has capacity to make a decision about voluntary assisted dying.

Interestingly, after day one of the legislation being in place, I had a client ask if it was possible for him to put his request in for assisted dying in his Appointment of Medical Treatment Decision Maker (i.e. Medical Power of Attorney) in order that his medical decision maker could assist him with this process should he lose capacity. Of course, this is not allowable under the present framework, however, it highlighted to me one of many ways in which this legislation may be misinterpreted and dangerously abused! What are your thoughts?