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Australia Husband shares wife's story as voluntary assisted dying bill faces unclear fate in Tasmania

04:15  12 october  2020
04:15  12 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws passed in Victoria in 2017 enabled Mrs Beer to die at home when she felt ready in June this year. Mersey independent MLC Mike Gaffney' s End-of-Life Choices ( Voluntary Assisted Dying ) Bill has achieved something not done before in Tasmania by passing

Tasmania ' s fourth attempt at voluntary assisted dying legislation will "legitimise the deliberate destruction" of lives and should not proceed, a former governor and chief justice says. The bill is the fourth attempt at assisted dying legislation in Tasmania .

a man wearing a hat: Daryl Beer and his poodle Tolli miss Gwen, who accessed voluntary assisted dying in June in Victoria. (ABC News: Peter Drought) © Provided by ABC NEWS Daryl Beer and his poodle Tolli miss Gwen, who accessed voluntary assisted dying in June in Victoria. (ABC News: Peter Drought)

You could hardly write a sweeter opening scene for a silver-screen romance: man meets woman at dry cleaner, she cracks a funny joke, he's immediately smitten.

During Gwen and Daryl Beer's love-filled 51 years of marriage, the pair raised a pilot son and doctor daughter and shared a mutual love of seeing the world via cruise ship and caravan.

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Voluntary assisted dying legislation will go through its second reading in Tasmanian Parliament next week. There are still groups who don't agree with the proposed bill . Voluntary assisted dying laws will be debated in Tasmanian Parliament next week.

Public support for legalising voluntary assisted dying has been growing steadily over the past two decades. A poll by the Mercury in 1998 found 54 per “We believe that if we are to have voluntary assisted dying legislation in Tasmania , it should be based on the Victorian or Western Australian

"Gwen herself, she was a very talented person," Mr Beer, who lives in Victoria, said.

"She used to make toys and clothing for the kids when they were little, then she went into cake decorating, then after cake decorating she went into golf and became a pennant player, then after that she took up art."

Two years ago, Gwen was diagnosed with cancer.

When she and her husband were told it was treatable they celebrated by going out for lunch and buying a new motorhome with plans to travel Australia.

"We found out that the word 'treatable' was different to the word 'curable'," Mr Beer said.

"Then it raised its head with an ugly vengeance, and got into the rest of her body."

Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws passed in Victoria in 2017 enabled Mrs Beer to die at home when she felt ready in June this year.

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On 29 November 2017, Victoria became the first Australian state to pass legislation allowing assisted suicide. The law gives anyone suffering a terminal illness, with less than six months to live, the right to end their life. The law had an 18-month implementation period, and came into effect on 19 June 2019.

Voluntary assisted dying remains illegal in the state, where euthanasia laws I would want to be in Tasmania with my family around me." For Susan*, that possible future is her reality. Fourth assisted dying bill planned for later this year. Independent MLC Mike Gaffney plans to introduce a voluntary

Ahead of Tasmania's debate on voluntary assisted dying on Tuesday, Mr Beer wanted to share his and Gwen's story in a bid to persuade MPs to allow euthanasia in the island state.

Mr Beer said Gwen's decision was her own.

"I didn't want to let her go, but I couldn't let her suffer in pain," Mr Beer said.

"I was holding one hand, my son was holding her other hand, I kissed her on the cheek and she was gone."

How the Tasmanian bill compares

Tasmania's upcoming voluntary assisted dying debate is the first initiated in the Legislative Council but the fourth on the issue since 2009.

Mersey independent MLC Mike Gaffney's End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill has achieved something not done before in Tasmania by passing into committee stage.

That means it is likely to pass Tasmania's 15-member Upper House with amendments, but there are no guarantees it will become law.

Voluntary assisted dying laws have already passed in Victoria and Western Australia. In WA, it will not be implemented until mid-2021.

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The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in the Legislative Council this Thursday. The Working Group' s voluntary assisted dying information sessions continue to be a valuable means of gauging the views of the community on the Bill .

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In both Victoria and WA and in the Tasmanian bill, the legislation requires or would require that participating patients are at least 18, and acting voluntarily.

In Victoria and Western Australia, a person is eligible to seek access to voluntary assisted dying medication if they have been diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition causing suffering that cannot be, in their view, tolerably relieved.

In those states, a patient's death must be expected within six months or, in the case of neurodegenerative conditions, 12 months.

Tasmania's bill is different. It requires a person to be suffering intolerably with a medical condition likely to kill them.

But the time to their expected death has not been specified, except where the person opts to privately self-administer the lethal substance, in which case the same six-month and 12-month requirements would apply.

In Victoria, two specialist medical physician, including the treating doctor, are required to sign off on a person's decision to access voluntary assisted dying medications, while in Western Australia it could be done by two specialists or doctors with 10 years' general registration.

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Mr Gaffney's bill would allow for two medical practitioners with at least five years' experience who have each completed an approved voluntary assisted dying training course to give patients access to the medication, partly in recognition of the low number of specialists working in Tasmania.

Similarly, it would explicitly allow for telehealth consultations on the medication, and permit nurses to administer the substance.

"How can we possibly get somebody who's intolerably suffering from a certain medical condition or illness or disease to get assessed by somebody that we don't even have in the state," Mr Gaffney said.

"In my mind, the VAD process has to be truly patient-centric with the needs of the person who may be seeking a VAD process at the forefront."

Amendments flagged

Labor MLCs and Murchison independent Ruth Forrest will move the bulk of amendments to the proposed laws - among them, removing nurses from the administration of the drugs, and creating a commission, rather than the proposed commissioner, to oversee the laws in practice.

A prognostic timeframe would also be introduced in line with that required in Victoria and Western Australia.

"It doesn't mean conversations about voluntary assisted dying couldn't occur before that period, it just means that the formal application for VAD process can't be started before a person has a life expectation meeting that timeframe," Ms Forrest said.

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"I've also included an exemption or exception to that rule where a person who may have an unusual condition or where it's difficult to determine how long they may have to live ... can apply to the commissioner to have that requirement waived."

Ms Forrest will also propose that the default position would be for a person accessing voluntary assisted dying to self-administer the substance.

"If they can't for whatever reason, then a doctor would assist them to do that," Ms Forrest said.

Bill likely to face tough reception in Lower House

Debate in Tasmania's Upper House will run late into Tuesday evening, and possibly beyond.

Liberal MLC Jane Howlett - who appeared to speak against the legislation last month - said she would support amendments that strengthened the bill.

With the Parliament's tight sitting schedule ahead it would appear unlikely the bill will hit the Lower House by the end of the year.

And when it does, it's likely to face a tougher reception.

The numbers in the House of Assembly are not clear. Last week, the ABC emailed all Lower House MPs to ask if they supported the intent of the bill.

Government members were not allowed to comment - instead, a spokeswoman said they would be allowed a conscience vote, but would not provide clarity on what that meant for each individual MP.

Speaker Sue Hickey said she would support the legislation, and backbencher Nic Street is likely to support the legislation, having voted for similar laws in the past.

State Growth Michael Ferguson has previously said he would vote against such a bill. Several other government MPs - Resources Minister Guy Barnett and backbencher Jacquie Petrusma - are also expected to vote it down.

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A Labor spokeswoman said the party's MPs had been allowed a conscience vote "in the party room", and that all MPs would support the laws when they were debated in the House of Assembly.

This included Braddon Labor MP Shane Broad, who voted against the laws in 2017.

"This is a very different piece of legislation," Dr Broad said.

"I've formed my own view on Mike's bill and I'll make my reasoning clear during the debate."

'Just pass it'

Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said she would "100 per cent" support the bill, as will her colleague Rosalie Woodruff.

Independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie will likely vote against it, but told the ABC she had the "deepest compassion for everyone journeying through end-of-life issues".

"Naturally, I will carefully read any bill that is ultimately abled in the House of Assembly," she said.

"I will consider it in light of the current law, the detail of proposed changes and sufficiency of consultation."

The Premier has privately written to MLCs to argue Mr Gaffney's bill was complex, and former governor William Cox has lobbied against the existing bill, arguing it failed to provide enough protection against coercion.

Several groups associated with the Catholic Church have also campaigned against the laws.

One of them, Live and Die Well, released a statement on Sunday condemning the bill.

"We urge Legislative Councillors to reject this dangerous legislation," spokesman Ben Smith said.

Talking about losing Gwen is hard for Mr Beer.

The new motorhome still sits in the driveway.

One of his two pet poodles, Jindi, had to be put down just days after his wife passed away.

Until coronavirus passes, Mr Beer is at home with his poodle Tolli, which he says misses Gwen too.

But Mr Beer is sharing his story because he is passionate about all Australians having access to voluntary assisted dying.

"Just pass it, for God's sake," Mr Beer said.

"For humans' sake, just pass it."

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