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Australian state considers assisted suicide for terminally ill patients

May 18, 2017 11:11 IST

Victoria, a state of Australia, is considering a legislation that will legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Patients suffering from ailments like Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Parkinson's disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS) could be eligible for the assisted death. However, Patients suffering from dementia would not be able to request an assisted death due as they don’t have the ability to make decisions.

Xinhua news agency reported a ministerial advisory panel is currently drafting the historic legislation which will make assisted death available to those suffering from terminal illnesses.

Main highlights of the report

• Under the committee's proposal, the request for assisted death would have to come from the patients themselves and must be repeated three times, one of which would be a formal written request.

• Two independent doctors with specialist training and at least five years' experience would have to approve the request before it could be approved.

About the Ministerial Advisory Panel

The panel was arranged after a parliamentary inquiry in 2016 that recommended legalising euthanasia in Victoria for adults of sound mind in the final weeks of life. Despite the inquiry's recommendation, the panel is considering defining a patient's "end of life" timeframe as six, 12, 18 or 24 months.

The panel has received more than 300 submissions from around the state in order to develop the framework around who would qualify for assisted suicide. "There was a strong consensus that 'enduring and unbearable suffering' be determined according to the person's own perception, not by anyone else," Brian Owler, the chairman of the panel, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The report - which is based on submissions to a panel investigating a potential framework for an assisted dying bill - reached no conclusion about when terminally ill people might be able to opt for an assisted death.

Current/Existing law in Victoria

In 1967, suicide was decriminalised in Victoria, however, the process of inciting or aid or abet to suicide was kept illegal.
Reports suggest that despite the ban offenders including medical practitioners have been assisting people to die by breaking the law. The events existed for all these years even after they knew about the criminal charges they may face like manslaughter, murder or aiding, inciting and abetting suicide.

But they always succeeded in protecting themselves by invoking the doctrine of double effect as a legal defence to charges relating to a patient’s death from excessive pain relief.

In addition to this, the medical practitioners also defended themselves by administering pain relief with the intention of relieving pain rather than hastening death. This practice is supported by the Code of Ethics of the Australian Medical Association that states that medical practitioners should provide treatment for pain and suffering ‘even when such therapy may shorten a patient’s life’.

What is the doctrine of double effect?

This doctrine means a process that states that it is lawful for medical practitioners to provide adequate pain relief, even though it has the unintended consequence of ending a patient’s life. This doctrine of double effect is legalised in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

Is this article important for exams ? Yes

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