friday, 1º december of 2017

Euthanasia law passes in Australia for first time

The Australian state of Victoria on Wednesday became the country’s first to legalize assisted dying.

After a two and a half years of debate and amendments, Victoria’s Lower House ratified the euthanasia bill, handing a victory to the state government of Premier Daniel Andrews, who had lobbied heavily for the law.

Starting in mid-2019, the law will allow Victorians with a terminal, incurable illness — and, in most cases, a life expectancy of less than six months — to obtain a lethal drug within 10 days of requesting it.

The state joins the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Colombia and Luxembourg in legalizing euthanasia. Several other countries — and states and jurisdictions in the United States, including California, Washington, D.C., and Oregon — have passed laws allowing assisted suicide, in which doctors, in certain cases, may prescribe or suggest a means in which patients may end their own lives, without directly assisting in the act.

Globally, assisted dying advocates have long argued for it on grounds of compassion and averting prolonged physical suffering for the terminally ill.

Mr. Andrews, the premier, said in a statement that the law would give those with terminal illnesses “the compassion and dignity they deserve at the end of their lives.”

In a tweet, he described Victoria’s law as the “most conservative voluntary assisted dying model that has ever been proposed — let alone implemented — anywhere in the world.”

Another Australian jurisdiction, the Northern Territory, had a short-lived assisted dying act, but it was struck down by the federal government in 1997.

Victoria’s amendments to the law make it more restrictive than those passed elsewhere. For instance, it allows a drug to be administered on behalf of a patient only if the patient is unable to administer it. Additionally, a patient needs to have been a resident of Victoria for at least one year to be eligible.

The bill faced substantial opposition, including from Mr. Andrews’s own deputy, James Merlino, who last month sought and failed to block the passage of the bill.

“My concern is proponents of this legislation will come back some time in the future and seek to expand it,” he said in a news conference at the time.

Broad concerns about the law, and the ways it may be interpreted, manipulated or expanded, led the state’s government to incorporate a slew of concessions and amendments, often in consultation with the Australian Medical Association, which advised in the process while opposing the law’s passage.

Dr. Lorraine Baker, the president of the association’s Victoria branch, acknowledged her organization’s difficulty in navigating the legislation.

“Historically, for the medical profession, everything is about preserving life,” she said. “That is such a fundamental ethical principle over centuries. However, we’re living in a society where now, in first world countries, life can be prolonged. Therefore, by default, apparent suffering can be prolonged.”

Dr. Baker said that a survey of Australian Medical Association members last year showed a strong minority of support for euthanasia policies.

“However, the majority of the profession, unsurprisingly, was opposed,” she said.

Dr. Baker said the association refrained from stronger criticism of the bill because certain elements were added, such as strong vetting and consultation with those considering ending their lives. Doctors, for instance, cannot first suggest assisted dying to a patient.

She did, however, warn of unforeseen consequences that could result from the law.

“The experience of watching people die, from whatever cause, is painful for anyone who watches it,” she said. “Whether or not it’s a well-managed dying, it’s a challenge for the people around them.”

And while opponents of the bill often argued that decisions about euthanasia should be left in the hands of the medical profession, Dr. Baker disagreed.

“Ultimately,” she said, “it’s a matter for society and the government.”

(Published by The New York Times - November 29, 2017)

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