American-inspired legislation to legalize assisted suicide has advanced in the Australian state of Victoria, leading critics to worry that it abandons the vulnerable.
On Oct. 18, Ministers of Parliament in Victoria voted to advance the bill by a 49-37 vote. It will face consideration by the full body before being advanced to the Legislative Council, the upper house.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill is based on similar laws in the U.S. It allows adults who are terminally ill and mentally competent to ask their doctor to prescribe a drug that will end their lives, the U.K.-based news site Politics Home reports. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had introduced the bill.
A parliamentary inquiry found that one terminally ill Victorian was taking his or her own life every week.
Critics of the bill questioned a lack of detail about what lethal drugs will be used. They said there is not a requirement for a psychological assessment to determine whether the patient suffers depression, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports. They also cited the risk that the elderly will be coerced into committing suicide.
Backers of the bill said it would only affect a small number of people who suffer terminal illnesses. They objected that palliative care cannot deal with all pain. They also claim the bill has among the most stringent safeguards in the world.
Catholics, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, and leaders from several Christian denominations joined together to sign a letter protesting the proposal, charging that euthanasia and assisted suicide “represent the abandonment of those who are in greatest need of our care and support.” The letter appeared July 31 in The Herald Sun newspaper.
In April, the local Catholic bishops said the proposal was based on “misplaced compassion.”
“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the opposite of care and represent the abandonment of the sick and the suffering, of older and dying persons,” they said in a pastoral letter. They also invoked the commandment “You Shall Not Kill” and cited the situation in countries like Holland where there are pressures on the elderly to commit suicide.
The effort to legalize assisted suicide in Victoria has been debated for more than a year. In June 2016, a parliamentary committee recommended legalizing voluntary euthanasia.
At the time, some physicians criticized the move. They charged that some lawmakers had naïve expectations and overestimated the speed and painlessness of a euthanasia death.
They warned that the legalization risked diminishing palliative care, which they said was already underused and underfunded.
A proposal similar to the Victorian bill will be debated in New South Wales in November.