Government officials in the state of Victoria, Australia trained health professionals on implementing and facilitating the life-ending procedures allowed under an assisted suicide law taking effect this summer. At the two-day Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Implementation Conference in Melbourne, May 8-10, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services focused on implementation of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.
“For the first time in Australian history, a government is training the very professionals who have taken an oath to protect life, to end it,” said Dan Flynn, the Victorian director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
The “interactive” conference included talks and activities covering the topics of “the medical perspective of being involved in voluntary assisted dying, developing service responses to support patients who request information about, and access to, voluntary assisted dying and establishing oversight and monitoring arrangements.”
In 2017, The Victorian Parliament passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, making Victoria the first state in Australia to allow voluntary assisted suicide. Lawmakers agreed on an 18-month implementation period, and the act is expected to go into effect July 19.
Mark Yates, past president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Victoria from 2005-07, has joined a group of medical practitioners in speaking out about the state’s voluntary assisted dying legislation.
Yates, also a geriatrician and clinical associate professor at Deakin University, told The Australian: “Lots of patients express the wish to die at the very end of their life, which is symptomatic of the fact that their needs aren’t being met. If we had appropriate palliative care, then all of those needs could be met … expert palliative care can almost always remedy that.”
Flynn agreed, saying, “The answer to terminal illness and pain is not suicide; it is improved pain relief, comfort and quality of life when our loved ones need it most.”
Under the legislation, Victorians with a terminal illness will be able to obtain a lethal drug within 10 days of asking to die, after completing a three-step process involving two independent medical assessments.
They must be over 18 years of age, of “sound mind,” have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months and be suffering in a way that “cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable.”
The Act expects patients to administer the life-ending drugs themselves, but doctors are permitted to deliver the lethal dose if someone is physically unable to end his or her life.
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