Voluntary euthanasia laws pass in Vic lower house

A voluntary euthanasia law has passed in Victoria’s Legislative Assembly after a marathon four-day sitting. The bill passed 47 votes to 37.

The proposed law will now head to the Legislative Council. If it passes there, the bill will allow terminally ill Victorians with less than 12 months to live and who are suffering unbearable pain to access lethal medication to end their lives.

It is yet to be decided which drugs would be made available, as traditional euthanasia drugs such as Nembutal are banned for human use by the federal government. Victoria’s bill does not seek to legalise the use of Nembutal, the drug considered to induce the best death for suffering patients.

When the European Union banned the export of Nembutal to the United States because of the drug’s use in capital punishment, a mixture of morphine and an epilepsy drug was developed as a replacement.

The state government has asked Monash University’s pharmacy department to research what type of legal drug mixtures could be developed if the legislation passes. An “implementation panel”, which would operate for 18 months, will be tasked with exploring the question of drugs, if the laws pass the Legislative Council.

The bill is a step towards enshrining the right to choose to die with dignity for people who want to make a free and informed choice to end their life. But further steps are needed to eliminate the question of coercion and ensure that preventable and treatable illnesses and disabilities do not continue to shorten the lifespans of those who want to live long lives.

The right to die with dignity is inseparable from the right to live with dignity. Euthanasia laws are a welcome advance, but they must be paired with massive increases in funding to healthcare and welfare to improve the quality of life for all.

The Legislative Council is set to deliberate on the bill very soon and the numbers look tight. There are 19 Yes votes locked in, two short of the 21 needed in the 40-person chamber, including the Reason Party's Fiona Patten, five Greens, two Liberals and 11 Labor. Opposing the bill are three Labor MPs, Rachel Carling-Jenkins of the Australian Conservatives, one National and at least eight Liberals.

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