HSV Submissions – July 2008

Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill 2008

Submitted dd July 2008 to all Victorian Members of Parliament

Below is the text of the letter delivered to all Victorian Members of Parliament in mid-July 2018

Subject matter: HSV views on Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill 2008

The members of the Humanist Society of Victoria are appealing to all members of the Victorian Parliament on a humane matter of conscience rather than party politics. We urge you to vote in favour of the Medical Treatment (Physician Assisted Dying) Bill 2008 and so enable doctors legally to help terminally ill patients to die in their own way.

This bill would legalize an option for people suffering gross indignities and insufferable pain due to a terminal illness, where palliative care may be inadequate. To seek medical assistance in order to release themselves from life, at a time and a place of their own choosing, is a desired and desirable option for people in that condition. It is a most personal decision and would be the result of careful, lengthy deliberation.

We consider the reasons for supporting passage of this bill are overwhelming.

First, as you would be aware, many doctors are already acquiescing to requests from their terminally ill patients for assistance to die. These doctors are in breach of the current laws, yet when they have made this known publicly none has been prosecuted. This indicates widespread community acceptance of these practices. It would surely be preferable for the legal position to be properly defined to allow those involved to operate openly, provided there are strict guidelines and adequate supervision. Openness enables transparency and the maintenance of the highest standards of decision-making.

Second, all recent polls on community attitudes to physician-assisted dying (or voluntary euthanasia) show, there is around 80 per cent support for it to become a legal option for those who wish to make that choice.

Third, those who do not wish to avail themselves of the option would not be subject to any pressure as a result of the change in legislation. In particular the bill specifically protects the patient’s right not to make such an option. For anyone else improperly to influence the patient’s decision is punishable by law. Doctors and nurses may refuse to participate, and those who do assist the patient waive all right to benefit from the death, whether directly or indirectly.

Fourth, as a multicultural society Australia is made up of people from many religious faiths as well as a sizable minority with no religious faith at all. Australians are therefore free to make their own moral choices, provided they do no harm to others. A person suffering from a chronic terminal illness, who seeks assistance to die at a time and place of his or her own choosing, does not affect other people who would not personally make the same choice.

Fifth, in overseas jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the American State of Oregon, where similar legislation has been enacted which permits physician-assisted dying under strict legal and medical supervision, none of the negative effects predicted by opponents of such humane measures has occurred. Having the option itself has been found to bring relief, even if it is never finally exercised.

We urge you, in your role as a representative of the people, to act with compassion for the few terminally ill who wish to avail themselves of the option of legal, physician-assisted dying.

Published: Victorian Humanist, September 2008: 7

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