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Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017: sending mixed messages on suicide

By Simon Kennedy - posted Thursday, 19 October 2017


If the Victorian Parliament passes the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, it will be sending mixed messages on suicide: it’s not OK for most but it is for some. And that simply isn’t right.

Suicide is always a tragedy. As a society we actively try and prevent it. Beyond Blue, Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Australia, just to name a few organisations, help those who want to end their own lives. Indeed, the Victorian Government has committed millions of dollars to tackle suicide in our community.

Premier Daniel Andrews has said “For every suicide, there are many more people deeply affected – family, friends, carers, colleagues and communities. This is something we urgently need to change.”

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The Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, stated that “We know that every suicide has a devastating impact on our community – this is something we are working quickly to change.”

But here’s where the message gets confused. The Victorian Parliament is debating a bill which will legalise assisted suicide. If we accept this Bill as reflective of our values as a society we will be sending mixed messages about suicide.

Imagine these two scenarios. The first scenario could become more common in Victoria quite soon. A lady, aged 55, is suffering from incurable cancer and is given less than 12 months to live. She is also suffering from depression in response to the cancer diagnosis.

She asks her doctor for a prescription to attain a lethal cocktail of drugs, in part because of her depression. The doctor is not required to check for a possible mental illness or mood disorder diagnosis. So they don’t.

However, the doctor is required to get a second opinion about the lady’s suitability for voluntary suicide, and does so. He fills in requisite forms, gives the lady a prescription, and she self-administers the drugs and dies.

The second scenario is, sadly, not uncommon now. A young man, aged 26, is found dead in his parent’s garage after committing suicide. The reason why he did this is unclear, although it becomes clear that he had symptoms of depression and no-one intervened.

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Any psychologist will tell you that most people who decide to attempt suicide do so whilst suffering from depression or related mental illnesses. And they will also tell you that these people should have hope and, therefore, they should seek help. As a society, that’s what we encourage people to do.

We would never accept the suicide of a young person due to depression as a normal and healthy response to suffering. Hence why millions of dollars are being poured into combatting it.

So it is disturbing that the State Parliament is about to consider a bill which doesn’t adequately protect against this happening.

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About the Author

Simon Kennedy is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Civil Society.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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