VICTORIA’S proposed voluntary euthanasia scheme could claim the lives of more than 1000 terminally ill patients a year by 2030, a leading Catholic researcher claims.
On September 21, the Victorian Government unveiled legislation for an assisted-dying scheme, with debate on the bill to begin next month and a conscience vote expected before the end of the year.
The predominantly self-administered scheme would be open to terminally ill patients aged over 18, of sound mind and suffering an incurable disease with a life expectancy of less than 12 months.
It would be the first euthanasia scheme introduced in Australia since the Northern Territory adopted and then repealed euthanasia legislation more than 20 years ago.
While Victoria’s proposal has more than 68 safeguards, stiff penalties for misuse and approval required from two doctors, experts are questioning whether protections go far enough.
A senior research fellow with Charles Sturt University’s Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture Dr Brendan Long said, based on the international experience of patients applying to use similar schemes, the average growth rate of using the Victorian scheme would be 17 per cent a year.
Based on the Victorian Government’s estimate that 150 to 200 people would access the procedure in its first year, Dr Long has estimated the annual figure would rise to 1000 by 2030, in line with international experience.
“The cumulative total of these deaths by 2029 is estimated to be 5806,” Dr Long wrote in a university study. “An estimate of over 5800 persons accessing the measures in ten years represents a significant cohort of persons in Victoria.”
He questioned whether euthanasia laws can adequately protect the rights of vulnerable people – particularly those with mental illness and depression – “physically frail and with a natural sense of fear of death”.
“When people are in their last stages of life they are vulnerable indeed,” he said. “They can be overwhelmed by the emotional burden of just another day; who of us can blame them for many of us will be in this situation when our time comes?
“But perhaps the most important vulnerability is a sense of being a burden to others, especially those emotionally close to them.”
Dr Long – a Catholic who served as an advisor to former Australian Labor Party federal ministers including Simon Crean and Brendan Conroy – based his study on programs in Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and the US states of Oregon and Washington.
His research found the overseas schemes revealed an average 17 per cent year-on-year compounded growth for each scheme.
On this basis, using the Victorian Government estimate that between 150 and 200 patients would use the scheme in its first year, in 2019, the number of patients using the scheme would grow to between 800 and almost 1100 by 2030.
Dr Long has advocated for increased support to palliative care as the proper way to manage end-of-life choices.
“Academics in the Roman Catholic tradition, like myself, have a particular philosophical perspective to bring to this debate,” he said in his study. “For us, assisted suicide is a violation of the dignity of the individual, a violation of the obligation to take all reasonable measures to sustain a person’s life.
“We believe that in death we are going back into the loving hands of the God that created us, completing the great circle of life and death, and journeying into a new and better life in peaceful serenity: a good end to a life well lived, a happy end to a new beginning.”