As­sisted dy­ing bill con­cerns

Seymour Telegraph - - NEWS - By Gus McCub­bing

While Vic­to­rian MPs re­main di­vided over the vol­un­tary as­sisted dy­ing bill, the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion came one step closer to en­act­ment last week.

Hav­ing passed through the up­per house 22 votes to 18, the bill will now go to the com­mit­tee stage, fac­ing fur­ther scru­tiny.

Mem­ber for North­ern Vic­to­ria Ja­clyn Symes, who voted in favour of the vol­un­tary as­sisted dy­ing bill, said it is the cul­mi­na­tion of ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with an ar­ray of ex­perts who have coal­face ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘The bill is about a choice that is unique to the in­di­vid­ual for whom death is both in­evitable and im­mi­nent, while also re­spect­ing the per­sonal con­vic­tions of our med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and pro­vid­ing them with choices,’’ she said.

‘‘There is noth­ing in this leg­is­la­tion that would com­pel any med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner or au­tho­rised nurse prac­ti­tioner to pro­vide med­i­cal as­sis­tance in dy­ing. This is all about find­ing the right bal­ance.

‘‘The bill pro­vides a choice to a small group of peo­ple — a choice that is in­formed, with safe­guards, checks, bal­ances and sup­ports to en­sure that the sys­tem is ro­bust, com­pas­sion­ate and pro­tec­tive of any­one who wishes to un­der­take it.’’

On the other hand Mem­ber for Euroa Steph Ryan, who was in favour of vol­un­tary as­sisted dy­ing 12 months ago, voted against the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion last week.

The gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to ad­e­quately in­vest in pal­lia­tive care, she said, was her chief con­cern with the bill, lead­ing her to change tack.

‘‘I worry that with­out proper in­vest­ment in pal­lia­tive care ser­vices, some peo­ple will be driven to ac­cess vol­un­tary as­sisted dy­ing be­cause they feel there is no other op­tion,’’ she said.

‘‘Vol­un­tary as­sisted dy­ing must be a last re­sort, not a first re­sort.

‘‘If the gov­ern­ment truly wants to pro­vide peo­ple with end-of-life op­tions, it can­not step back from the need to ad­dress the pro­vi­sion of pal­lia­tive care.’’

Ms Ryan also cited con­cerns about the un­cer­tainty of which drug will be used.

‘‘I feel that we are be­ing asked to take a gi­ant leap of faith by sim­ply hand­ing over con­trol to an im­ple­men­ta­tion task force to de­vise and re­search a con­coc­tion of drugs,’’ she said.

How­ever, speak­ing to The Tele­graph on Mon­day, Ms Symes re­sponded to the Mem­ber for Euroa’s con­cerns.

‘‘Our leg­is­la­tion does not spec­ify the drugs that would be used — it’s go­ing to be left to med­i­cal ex­perts, and I think that is more than ap­pro­pri­ate,’’ she said.

More im­por­tantly, Ms Symes said she agrees pal­lia­tive care is the most im­por­tant as­sis­tance for peo­ple fac­ing ter­mi­nal ill­ness.

But after vis­it­ing hos­pices in the US state of Ore­gon, where as­sisted dy­ing has been le­gal for 20 years, she be­lieves a sim­i­lar regime can suc­cess­fully co-ex­ist with pal­lia­tive care.

‘‘In Ore­gon they ex­plained the mere ex­is­tence of the med­i­ca­tion at the end ac­tu­ally im­proved pal­lia­tive care out­comes for many of their pa­tients, be­cause they’re not wak­ing up ev­ery day wor­ry­ing about how much pain they’re go­ing to be in at the end,’’ she said.

‘‘[In­stead] they’re wak­ing up re­spond­ing well to the pal­lia­tive care, know­ing that if they can’t keep go­ing, they’ve got an op­tion at the end.

‘‘So I just don’t think it’s an ei­ther/or situ­ta­tion.’’

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