As Tasmania’s parliament debates an extreme euthanasia bill, the Victorian government revealed it had approved 124 deaths in its first year of its assisted suicide scheme.
That number blows apart Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew’s much-publicised prediction of “a dozen” deaths in the first 12 months.
The state’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board missed its August deadline to present its 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2020 operations report to the public, lodging it in parliament on 1 September.
It revealed there were 67 deaths in those six months, bringing the total deaths by legal assisted suicide in the state in the scheme’s first year to 124 with a total of 231 permits issued.
There were 97 instances of lethal drugs being dispensed, bringing the total for the first year to 154. A quarter of the people who died saw just 11 days pass from their application until death.
Applications were received from Victorians across a spectrum of ages from 32 to 100 with an average age of 71 years. Of those who have died, 78 per cent had a cancer diagnosis, 15 per cent had a neurodegenerative disease such as motor neurone disease, and seven per cent had other diseases including pulmonary fibrosis, cardiomyopathy or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The number of medical practitioners trained and registered to support voluntary assisted dying increased by 30 per cent from the first six months, with 37 per cent located outside metropolitan Melbourne.
Anti-euthanasia advocate and director of HOPE Branka van der Linden said the number of deaths was “alarming” as well as the speed at which they seem to be occurring. “Half of those who applied for lethal drugs made their final request for euthanasia less than three weeks after they first requested it,” Ms van der Linden said.
“That’s not a lot of time for reflection, for alternative options to be offered and explored, or for the necessary support to be provided.”
Melbourne’s Archbishop Peter A Comensoli said the numbers were “heartbreaking”.
“The whole state is making sacrifices to protect people from COVID-19 while on the other hand public hospitals are encouraging assisted suicide,” he said. “The contradiction is baffling for many doctors.”
Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told The Catholic Weekly that the system is working “as it should”.
“Our voluntary assisted dying laws are giving Victorians who are suffering an incurable illness at the end of their lives a compassionate choice,” she said. “This review shows that the system is working as it should – with 68 rigorous safeguards in place, making our model the most conservative system in the world.”
In Tasmania, independent Upper House member Mike Gaffney introduced his assisted suicide bill to parliament on 27 August.
Tasmania’s Archbishop Julian Porteous said its provisions “go further than existing legislation in Victoria and Western Australia” yet it has received “no expert scrutiny through an independent inquiry process”.
The local branch of the Australia Medical Association also opposes the bill.
“We don’t agree that a doctor should do any action with the primary purpose of ending a person’s life,” its president Dr Helen McArdle told media.
Spokesperson for Live and Die Well, Ben Smith said Tasmania was at risk of enshrining “the most expansive laws concerning assisted suicide and euthanasia in Australia”.
The Tasmanian government says the bill contains important safeguards.
LifeChoice will host a zoom lecture by Tasmanian palliative care specialist Dr Helen Lord on the dangers of euthanasia next Monday 7 September at 7pm. For more information: www.LifeChoice.org.au/euthanasialecture