Victoria has issued its first “voluntary assisted dying” permit under the right-to-die laws which became active in mid-June this year, after 18 months preparation since the passing of the laws in 2017.
Authorities were tight lipped on Tuesday evening about the details of the permit, reported on ABC radio, simply saying that the state’s “model of voluntary assisted dying” was working. The Health Department refused to confirm or deny the news. The refusal to provide details is in keeping with Health Minister Jenny Mikakos’ determination not to offer a “running commentary” on the progress of the laws. A Health Department spokesman declined to comment, saying he would not confirm details either of patients or medical workers accessing the scheme. “We know that doctors are talking to patients about voluntary assisted dying and are carrying out assessments. It is giving people at the end of their life a genuine and compassionate choice over the manner and timing of their death.”
The government said it was determined to respect the privacy of patients accessing voluntary assisted dying and their loved ones.The approval marks a major milestone in the state’s move towards being the only Australian jurisdiction allowing terminally ill residents to take their own lives. The permit, which has not been used yet, will allow the unidentified terminally ill person to obtain a medically approved cocktail of drugs and to end his or her own life at a time of own choosing. The scheme is open only to Victorian residents aged 18 years and over who have no more than six months to live, or 12 months if they have neurodegenerative conditions, who are in unbearable pain. The state government earlier said that it expected only a handful of Victorians – as few as a dozen – would use the laws to end their lives in the first year, but that number was expected to grow up to 150 annually over time.
Dying with Dignity’s spokesman Rodney Syme said that he was pleased the first permit had been granted terminally ill, but at the same time he said that Victorians were still facing delays in accessing the legislation. The long-time euthanasia advocate said he had received more than a dozen phone calls for help to navigate the scheme from terminally ill Victorians and their families since the laws came into effect last month. “Despite the fact there was 18 months for the implementation of this legislation and the government worked hard to set it up, I believe it is still the case that community are poorly informed,” he said. Dr Syme said in one case it had taken 40 days for a terminally ill woman with breast cancer, who wanted to end her life through assisted dying, to find two specialists willing to help her. “There are a whole heap of barriers at the moment,” he said. “I just think the government needs to maintain the communication process and ramp it up. Once people find the doctors, they’ve still got to go through the process of getting the permit which can theoretically take nine days. These are people who are suffering greatly and they can’t afford any delays.”