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On 9 June 2016 a cross-party Parliamentary Committee tabled its final report on its Inquiry into end-of-life choices. The inquiry was conducted over a year and included extensive consultations and research. The Parliamentary Committee received more than 1,000 submissions and held 17 days of public hearings, during which it heard from 154 witnesses. The Parliamentary Committee’s final report includes 49 recommendations to improve end-of-life care in Victoria. The government has accepted 44 of these recommendations, and many are already being implemented. This includes recommendations about improving palliative care and advance care planning.
The Parliamentary Committee concluded that there was overwhelming evidence that the current legal and medical system in Victoria is not adequate to deal with the pain and suffering that some people may experience at the end of their life. The Parliamentary Committee recognised that how we are cared for at the end of life and how we are dying is changing with advances in medicine. It also found that people want genuine choice about how they die and would like to be able to plan for their death.
For the vast majority of people, palliative care and advance care planning will ensure they receive appropriate pain relief and have genuine choice. Victoria already has high-quality palliative care services, and the Victorian Government has committed to continuing to improve these services. The recently passed Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016 will allow people to make legally binding decisions about their future medical treatment through an advance care directive.
The Parliamentary Committee found that there were a small number of circumstances in which palliative care cannot provide the relief needed to address the pain and suffering at the end of life. To that end, it has recommended that in these very limited cases, medical practitioners should be allowed to assist people to die.
The focus of this discussion paper is recommendation 49 of the Parliamentary Committee – that the government introduces a legislative framework to allow voluntary assisted dying based on the framework recommended by the Parliamentary Committee. The government has committed to introducing legislation into parliament in 2017 but has recognised that further work is required to fill in the details of this framework.
This discussion paper aims to progress this commitment. This discussion paper does not repeat the moral and social arguments for and against voluntary assisted dying that were explored by the Parliamentary Committee. The purpose is to consider how the Parliamentary Committee’s framework could be implemented in practice. The feedback will inform the development of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.
When the bill is introduced into the parliament, the range of issues associated with voluntary assisted dying will be debated, along with the efficacy of the voluntary assisted dying framework. The purpose of this consultation is to ensure that parliament may debate the merits of voluntary assisted dying through well-informed and workable legislation. The Parliamentary Committee’s final report and details of the inquiry may be found on the Parliament of Victoria website.
The Parliamentary Committee has recommended a framework that would allow adults with decision-making capacity, who are suffering from a serious and incurable condition and at the end of their life, to be provided with assistance to die in certain circumstances. While the Parliamentary Committee’s framework provides broad parameters, further considerations are required to determine the details of how this framework could work in practice.