On June 19, 2019, Premier Daniel Andrews passed a bill in Parliament accompanied by one of the rawest and heart-breaking stories a politician could muster. The story was of his late father, Bob, who died in palliative care after a long-suffering journey with terminal cancer. The law that came into effect on that day was the Victorian legalisation of Voluntary Assisted Dying.
Like so many Victorians in the past, Bob Andrews suffered for too long.
“By the time his many cancer treatments had run their course, there wasn’t much left of him. The radio. The chemo. The surgery. Month after month. Year after year. My dad passed away long before he died.”
Mr Andrews said, fighting back tears.
“And it’s only when you go through something like that – when you watch someone you love succumb to what some people might even describe as a “good death” – you start to wonder what on earth must qualify as a “bad death”. So many Victorians in the final months of a terminal illness are suffering far worse than my father did. They deserve to have that ultimate choice. They deserve to have that ultimate control. From today, they will.’
It was hard not to be moved by Andrews’ story. One, his love and respect of his father was inherent in every word, and the impact of his death equally so. And two, because so many Victorians have been through similar journeys with loved ones. The breakdown of their last days, their last painful breaths, after months, sometimes years of suffering, are moments that become stamped on families’ hearts forever.
For some, the final moments seem peaceful in comparison to the suffering, but for many, they are undignified and far from the reflection of the years the person had spent on the earth prior to their debilitating illness. Yet these are the ways they have been forced to be remembered. Until now.
For Victorians, the law has mostly been effected with open arms. First passed in 2017, it seems to have taken a while to be finalised. But the bill––which contains 68 safeguards––has seen Victoria’s political progressiveness elevated by this historical moment.
What does the law actually mean for Victorians?
It means if you are Victorian and over the age of 18, and have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, with less than one year left to live, you have the right to request that your death be assisted by the state.
The fine print…
Of course, there are conditions. Many.
For one, you must a resident of Australia and have been living in Victoria for at least one year prior to requesting voluntary assisted dying.
You must be capable of sound decisions, and of giving informed consent; communicating your decision on your own.
You must have an incurable disease and be suffering intolerable, non-relievable conditions.
You must be expected to live no longer than 6months (or 12months for neuro-degenerative conditions), and your diagnosis is to be confirmed by at least two doctors.
Before being offered assisted dying…
The patient must have made three clear requests––without any prompting.
The first request has to brought up by the terminally ill patient to their doctor (“co-ordinating doctor”) independently. Following that, they must make another two requests. One, to another doctor––likely a specialist, who will be referred to as the “consulting medical practitioner.”
The third request is then made verbally to the original “co-ordinating doctor” and must be at least 9 days after the first request.
The co-ordinating doctor makes a final review to certify the process and only then will the patient be able to apply for an assisted dying permit. The permit is passed to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services who will approve the request.
Depending on each individual’s circumstance, the death may come through a practitioner’s administration or patient’s self-administration.
How long does the process take?
From start to finish the entire project should take no less than 10 days. And at any moment throughout that 10 days, the patient may make a call to relinquish the request.
How will assisted dying to be served?
There will only be one place that will produce the drug required for assisted dying. A small team of pharmacists at The Alfred hospital will prepare the lethal dose and deliver them to the patients themselves.
The drug will be dispensed to the patient, usually in their home, and in most cases will be a liquid dose of 100mL of the lethal drug. The patient will also be offered a relaxant to help with the procedure.
The patient MUST administer the drug themselves and nominate a person to return whatever is remaining after death to the Alfred hospital.
The whole thing is very confronting, and I imagine for some Victorians, still a hard pill to swallow. But for the majority, it is one of the most human-centric political moves in a long time. Regardless of your opinions on the law, this is an auspicious time in the healthcare industry.
Do you have your own personal story or opinions on assisted dying? Please leave a comment.