The COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria appears to be giving cover to another deadly pandemic in that state: that of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Pardon the pun, but Sunday last week, 30 August, was the drop-dead date for Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board to provide a report to Parliament on the operation of the state’s euthanasia and assisted suicide laws for the six-month period to 30 June.
The Board is supposed to provide its report “as soon as practicable” after 30 June, but no later than two months.
This report provides statistics on how many Victorians were deemed eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide, how many received permits to go ahead, how many doses of lethal drugs had been dispensed and how many people had died under the regime, either by their own hand or at the hand of a doctor.
Tabled in Victorian Parliament on 1 September, the report reveals that there were ten times as many deaths as was predicted by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who famously said that he expected “a dozen or so” deaths in the first year of the regime.
In the year to 30 June, it was not “a dozen or so” deaths but “ten dozen or so,” with the numbers sitting at 124 dead.
In addition to these, another 107 permits for lethal drugs have been issued, so the death rate could almost double in the coming weeks (a phrase with which Victorians have devastatingly become accustomed).
Advocates of euthanasia will argue that we should have expected a rush in the first year, because there was a “backlog” of people with terminal illnesses who were waiting to die.
Indeed, when I reported on the half-year statistics, I was labelled “either an honest idiot or a dishonest, unethical and totally unempathetic individual,” “a stupid woman,” “a dimwit,” and a “chick who needs some serious education” by pro-euthanasia activists.
Their argument playing down the significance of these figures falls down for two reasons.
First, because the US state of Oregon took 17 years of legalised assisted suicide to reach the numbers that Victoria reached in its first year.
Second, because the legislation is only supposed to be available to those who have six months or less to live.
By design, there isn’t supposed to be a “backlog” because those who were waiting for the legislation because if the laws are being implemented according to the eligibility requirements, those waiting would have died from their underlying illness.
Another item of information that the report reveals is that a quarter of those who applied for euthanasia or assisted suicide made their first, second and final request for death in the space of 11 days.
Half went through the process within 19 days. The minimum under the law is 9 days.
Despite the massive number of deaths and the clearly streamlined process, the focus of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board appears to be largely on trying to make access even easier, and the process even quicker.
The Board wants to ensure access to euthanasia and assisted suicide services is expanded to seven days a week.
It wants to unburden patients (and doctors) from having to attend physical consultations, and instead allow doctors to diagnose terminal illness, give a prognosis of less than six months, assure themselves that the patient has informed consent and is acting voluntarily and ensure compliance with all other aspects of the law using telehealth, ie death via … Zoom.
The Board also wants to allow doctors to initiate conversations with their patients about euthanasia and assisted suicide, which would remove one of the key safeguards inserted in the legislation to make sure patients weren’t influenced by their doctors to choose death.
These numbers were only to 30 June; we don’t know how many more have died in the two months since then, nor do we know how many more will apply for euthanasia or assisted suicide after seeing the horrifying details coming out of Victorian aged care facilities in recent months.
We will need to wait another 6 months for the next report, and only then will we begin to see the effect of COVID on euthanasia deaths in that state.
I have said it before but it is worth repeating: until the aged care mess is sorted, including the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care released, there needs to be a moratorium on euthanasia in Victoria. Lives literally depend on it.