The power of choice

dying with dignity


After a marathon session of the Victorian Upper House this week, the Dying with Dignity legislation was narrowly passed, 22 votes to 18.

The Bill will give terminally-ill Victorians in intolerable pain and with less than six months to live the right to ask to end their lives using prescription medication.

The legislation will return to the House of Representatives next week for final sign off before becoming law.

The words above do not capture the emotion and the drama of the debate around this controversial legislation as both houses of parliament spent many, many hours night and day, bringing amendments to the bill, telling deeply personal stories and arguing the complexities of an issue so central to our humanity.

I am grateful to our politicians that they have given up sleep to wrestle with something which fundamentally changes the way we view the sanctity of life. I am grateful that they have taken their responsibilities as representatives of the people of Victoria so seriously on a matter which really does have life or death consequences.

There are now 141 clauses to this Bill. We need as many safeguards as possible as we take a step into the unknown. Other countries have gone down this path and we read stories from opponents to euthanasia about the slippery slope – the elderly feeling pressured to end their lives; people who have a chronic terminal illness worried that they are a burden to others making similar decisions and so on.

It is much easier to go forward with very stringent rules and re-address if need be in the future and potentially wind them back. The Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association has expressed some concern. It is the doctors who will be responsible for assessing whether the patient is eligible. Not always an easy call as doctors sign up to save life, not to take it.

However, the legislation only applies to those suffering from an incurable illness which causes intolerable suffering, and are believed to have less than six months to live.

I don’t know what I think. In my mind, other significant social and moral issues which affect us are not nearly as complex as a person’s right to choose to die.

What is particularly fascinating is evidence that when people who have elected to die are provided with the means, they often do not use it. The actual presence of the drug which brings on death becomes a comfort – they now have choice as to whether they remain living or elect to die.

Choice empowers people. LGBTIQ people will soon be able to choose to wed, whereas before Australian law forbade them from a right availed to cisgender people. When humans are empowered in their lives, it enables them to live more fully. Perhaps this legislation might enable comfort and reassurance to those Victorians crippled by suffering brought on by a life-threatening illness. My prayer is that we continue to protect the precious gift of life as we enable people facing death to make choices.

The Justice and International Mission unit has produced a discussion paper to aid a whole-of-church discussion on assisted dying. To obtain a copy of the discussion paper email:

If this article has raised any concerns for you, contact Lifeline: 13 11 14


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