'Final step away': Victoria on the verge of legalising voluntary assisted dying

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Elderly man
An elderly man stands in Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro September 13, 2011. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

Victoria is set to make voluntary assisted dying legal. It would be the first Australian state to approve the right of terminally ill people to call for assistance to end their lives following the upper house’s approval.

After a debate, the bill was passed by 22 votes to 18. The chamber opened the session on Tuesday, sitting for over 28 hours.

The government agreed to significant amendments to pass the law. It will go back to the lower house for approval next week.

MPs wept in emotional scenes, hugged and consoled colleagues after a competition from conservative opposition. The scheme is tipped for terminally ill patients who are expected to die within six months or within a year for those with neurodegenerative disease.

To be eligible, a patient should have been an ordinary Victorian resident for at least a year. Voluntary assisted dying will be noted on the person’s death certificate as the “manner” of death.

The bill passed with the support of Liberal MPs Mary Wooldridge, Bruce Atkinson, Ed O’Donohue and Simon Ramsay. The independent MP James Purcell, five Greens and the Reason party’s Fiona Patten also supported the bill.

The government reportedly said the voluntary assisted scheme would be the most conservative in the world. It will allow adults who are capable of making decision and were diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and will cause death to seek assistance to die.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the state was “one final step away” from making assisted dying legal, The Guardian reports. Victoria could become the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise assisted dying since the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act had been overturned.

Abbott reacts

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has expressed “shock” over the news. Speaking to 2GB’s Ben Fordham, Abbott said that “people who are gravely ill should have their pain relieved, not their lives ended.”

“People’s lives have to be respected and this idea that we should end the lives of people who have failed our test of usefulness or have failed our test of what constitutes a decent quality of life is absolutely dead wrong and I hope that a future Victorian Parliament might reverse this,” Abbott said. He added that doctors should be healers and must not be required to be killers.