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Victoria - extension even before the bill is written

By Paul Russell - posted Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Anyone looking at the experience in Canada since euthanasia and assisted suicide laws came into force last year, should be struck by the moves to extend the law so soon after they had been passed. After all, when you look to Belgium and Holland and even Oregon USA, the moves to expand their laws and/or the application of their laws has taken some time to develop.

There are many reasons why the European and Oregon situations have taken time to see the various incremental legal and effective interpretational changes gather momentum. In Belgium and Holland the statutes were written in very broad terms relating to unbearable and irretrievable suffering. While the understanding at the time of their debates focussed on euthanasia as a 'last resort' option for people in the last stages of a terminal illness, the wording never restricted application in that way.

In the last five years and more there has been a continual pushing at the edges of the community understanding of the breadth of the law. Euthanasia for tinnitus, for blindness, for psychological suffering, for the accrual of minor complaints associated with old age, for fear of entering a nursing home - all unthinkable in the beginning. Add to that the 2013 statute amendment to include children in Belgium and the current discussion in Holland in respect to assisted suicide for people over 70 years of age who are simply 'tired of life', and one can legitimately wonder where it will all stop.


As Dutch journalist, Gerbert van Loenen once observed:

Making euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide legal started a development we did not foresee. The old limit 'thou shalt not kill' was abandoned, a new limit is yet to be found.

Canada seems bent on catching up with the Benelux countries at some pace.

In Victoria, Australia, there also seems to be something of a rush.

A Ministerial Advisory Panel charged with the role of consulting about how to make assisted suicide safe, is due to provide an interim report to Premier Daniel Andrews any day now. The final report is due in July and legislation is slated for the second half of this year.

The Panel's reference was the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament report in the matter of the 'Inquiry into End of Life Choices' that was finalised in mid-2016.


Recommendation 49 of that report called upon the Victorian Parliament to legislate assisted suicide for people, "suffering from a serious and incurable condition which is causing enduring and unbearable suffering" and that these persons must be "at the end of life (final weeks or months of life)".

So, not necessarily but most likely a terminal illness but still only for those at the very end or, as the Dutch talked about: a 'last resort' option.

Politically this makes sense. The game, if I can call it that, is to gain 50% plus one support in the two chambers of parliament. The logic is, of course, that it is the first hurdle that is the hardest. Better to get something on the statute books rather than risking yet another loss from trying for too much.

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About the Author

Paul Russell is the Director of HOPE: preventing euthanasia & assisted suicide

Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

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All articles by Paul Russell

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