Australia Euthanasia laws explored in new podcast
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Nothing can diminish the grief of losing a loved one, but the option of a voluntary assisted dying scheme is helping reduce the trauma involved.
A growing number of Australian states are legalising or considering the introduction of a euthanasia program, in accordance with strict guidelines.
Some 224 Victorians have ended their lives since state laws came into effect in June 2019.
Since then, Western Australia and Tasmania have passed similar legislation and the topic remains on the agenda for other state parliaments.
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In Victoria, adults with an incurable and advanced illness with less than six months to live - or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases - are eligible to access lethal medication to end their lives.
Applicants must make three separate requests to end their life, and be endorsed by two doctors, including a specialist, who have undertaken mandatory training.
Melbourne GP Nick Carr, who is on the board of Dying with Dignity Victoria, has helped dozens of terminally ill people access the scheme.
"All the things that people were saying were going to happen ... that we would be knocking off kids and disabled people, coercing grannies to die so that grandkids can get their money, there's just no evidence of any of that," he told AAP.
"All it has done is given a very small number of people a better choice at the end of their lives."
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Veteran TV interviewer Andrew Denton, who established advocacy group Go Gentle in 2016, was instrumental in the campaign for voluntary assisted dying in Victoria.
His interest in the issue was sparked by the "painful and traumatic experience" of watching his father, Kit Denton, die slowly in 1997.
"Assisted dying is peaceful, it's humane, but it's not a golden ticket," he told AAP.
"You still have to say goodbye to everything, that sadness and that trauma doesn't go away for people but it is far less traumatic than sitting by a bedside as somebody you love suffers for days or weeks or sometimes months."
In 2015, Denton released a 17-episode podcast series called Better Off Dead, in which he spoke to terminally ill people and their loved ones who were desperate for a voluntary euthanasia scheme, including a woman convicted over the assisted suicide of her cancer-ridden father.
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"I spoke to the daughter of a woman who was 82 and she had a horrible degenerative disease. They were able to take her out, not long before she died, for an afternoon where she was surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They played movies. Everybody spoke to her," Denton said.
"The daughter said to her mother, 'Look, mum, this is what you've done, none of this would be here if not for you'. It's the most beautiful thing."
The podcast also looks at the limitations of Victoria's scheme, including the many safeguards that have sometimes acted as barriers.
Among the Denton interviewees in season two is Kristin Cornell, whose father Allan died in June last year, about 100 days after he began the application process to end his life.
The 74-year-old and his family spent his final months trying to find neurologists trained in the state's voluntary assisted dying laws to approve his application.
"Carting my dad around to that final neurology appointment, he couldn't keep his head up, he couldn't sit in cars anymore," Ms Cornell said.
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"When I told him that we had to go back to the first neurologist again because we'd fallen out of the timeframe he cried. I reckon I've seen my dad cry about twice.
"He said, 'It's like I've got a carrot dangling in front of me Kristin and I can't reach it'."
There are 210 medical professionals across Victoria trained to help people access the program, the majority of whom are general practitioners located in metropolitan Melbourne.
Commonwealth laws prohibit consultations over the phone or via teleconference, which makes it harder for those living outside the city.
Dr Carr said the prognosis requirement means some people are starting the application process too late.
"There's a saying that doctors don't know you have six months to live until you've got six weeks to live," he said.
"Ideally, the voluntary assisted dying bill would say that you have an end-stage terminal illness, which treatment is unlikely to make a difference, without having to put a prognosis on there."
He also hopes the state government reconsiders the requirement of being an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
"We've had people who've lived here for many years but never taken out citizenship," he said.
"My very first patient Julian lived here for 40 years, but he was a British citizen. He committed suicide in a very unpleasant manner because he was not eligible for voluntary assisted dying."
VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING IN AUSTRALIA:
* Victoria: voluntary assisted dying laws came into effect in June 2019.
* WA: laws passed parliament in December 2019, due to come into effect on July 1, 2021.
* Tasmania: laws passed parliament in March, expected to come into effect within 18 months.
* Queensland: the Palaszczuk government will introduce a bill this year after making it a central part of its re-election campaign.
* SA: debating the issue for the 17th time after an upper house MP tabled a bill in parliament in December.
* NSW: independent MP Alex Greenwich plans to introduce a private member's bill this year. The state's most recent attempt to legalise voluntary assisted dying in 2017 failed to pass the upper house by one vote.
*NT/ACT: NT passed the world's first law in 1995 only to have it overturned less than two years later by the federal government. Canberra also removed the right of territories to legislate on euthanasia.
Season two of Better Off Dead will be released on Tuesday via wheelercentre.com
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