Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Euthanasia advocates slam Victorian Health Department review for ruling out expansion of scheme

“It obstructs conversations between professional carers and patients who are seeking information.”

Submissions to the review close later this month, with the findings to be tabled in parliament later this year.

St Kilda GP Dr Nick Carr is disappointed by the limited scope of the Health Department’s review into the state’s voluntary assisted dying laws.

St Kilda GP Dr Nick Carr is disappointed by the limited scope of the Health Department’s review into the state’s voluntary assisted dying laws.Credit: Joe Armao

Dr Nick Carr, who is one of the state’s most active prescribers of voluntary assisted dying medication, said the review was a missed opportunity.

“These are the most restrictive voluntary assisted dying laws in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world,” he said, pointing out that the law had 68 safeguards.

He’d like to see the scheme expanded to people with dementia (with stringent safeguards) and a relaxing of the requirement for patients to have a prognosis of death within six months (and 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases).

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“That’s often a real barrier … it means people come to the process too late,” Carr said.

“We would like to help people who have been given a diagnosis that we know is going to kill them in the foreseeable future without having a specific time on it.”

Carr recently lost a legal challenge against the federal government over its law banning discussion about suicide over a “carriage service”, which includes phones, email and telehealth.

Carr had argued that the term suicide was different to voluntary assisted dying. The decision will have ramifications for terminally ill patients in regional and rural areas who want to access voluntary assisted dying but are unable to travel great distances for in-person assessments with specialists.

Dying with Dignity president Jane Morris labelled the review “disappointing”.

“We were sincerely hoping it would allow for some legislative change,” she said.

“Victorians, who were the leaders with voluntary assisted dying legislation, have become the laggards.”

She had hoped that the review would start a discussion about whether the state’s assisted dying scheme should be expanded to people with dementia.

It should have also looked at allowing nurses to administer voluntary assisted dying medication, she said. This would address the shortage of doctors prescribing the substance and pull the state in line with Western Australia, NSW, Tasmania and Queensland, where nurses can administer the substance.

A Victorian government spokesman said while legislative changes were not within the scope of the review, all legislation was reviewed and updated periodically to ensure it was fit for purpose.

He said the review would “consider how the laws have been implemented in Victoria and whether improvements can be made to how this is done in future”.

In 2017, Victoria became the first Australian state to introduce voluntary assisted dying legislation.

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