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Twelve euthanasia deaths predicted in first year, but Victoria had counted 52 deaths in six months

Untimely deaths: Six months after Victoria passed euthanasia laws, the state recorded more than 52 people ended their lives under the laws in the six months between June 19 and December 31 of last year.

VICTORIAN authorities have recorded 52 deaths in the first six months since euthanasia became available in the state.

The government had expected one death per month, but were instead counting two deaths per week between June 19 and December 31.

Of those 52 people who died, 43 people swallowed the fatal medication themselves and nine people had their doctor administer it for them.

The statistics were revealed in the inaugural six-monthly report from the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board. 

The figures far exceeded Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews predictions, based on overseas experience, that about 12 people would die in the first year under what he called a “conservative model” for euthanasia.

“And we would think that number would settle at around 100, 150 per year in the years after,” he said.

The figures emerged as the reporting deadline fast approached for the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into aged care, end-of-life and palliative care and voluntary assisted dying.

A report is expected by March 31.

The Victorian figures were also a concern for Western Australia, which passed its own euthanasia laws in December last year.

Western Australia’s laws, which would come into effect mid-2021, were widely criticised for having fewer safeguards than the Victorian legislation.

This was particularly concerning because the Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien already stressed the high numbers of administrative errors under the Victorian scheme.

The report revealed “83 per cent of cases required forms to be returned for clarification or provision of missing eligibility information”.

The report also stated that 19 applications for voluntary assisted dying permits had been withdrawn, for reasons including “administrative error or confirmation of death by means other than voluntary assisted dying”.

“I’m very interested to find out, what are those administrative errors?” Mr O’Brien said.

Right to Life Australia president Margaret Tighe said the figures out of Victoria were “not surprising”.

“As we predicted – once the genie is out of the bottle and doctors have been given the power to end life, at a patient’s request, the siren song of an early death will become very seductive,” she said.

“After all, it will become easier and quicker and cheaper to kill than to provide adequate palliative care for all Victorians.

“On the one hand Victorian society calls for more suicide prevention and on the other hand it embraces physician-assisted suicide.”

In the first six months, 136 people commenced the assessment process and only one person was rejected, with 135 people deemed eligible at their first assessment.

Of the 102 who went for a consulting assessment, 100 were deemed eligible.

In this pool, 19 applications were withdrawn, which left 70 people who were approved for assisted suicide and another 11 were approved for euthanasia.

This meant, in addition to the 52 deaths in the first six months, another 29 have been approved to die.

Victorian Labor frontbencher Marlene Kairouz told The Australian she was deeply concerned about the number of people “committing suicide” under the Andrews Government’s euthanasia laws.

Ms Kairouz was one of five lower house Labor MPs who used their conscience vote to oppose Labor’s legislation. She said the Andrews Government was otherwise working hard to lower suicide rates across the community.

“We have a Minister for Mental Health who is doing some really wonderful work to lower the suicide rates,” she said.

“It’d be no surprise to anybody that I have some concerns about the number of people who are taking their lives (under the voluntary assisted dying scheme).”

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