Last-ditch warnings on Vic euthanasia laws

Victoria has done what no other Australian state was willing to, says Andrew Denton.
Victoria has done what no other Australian state was willing to, says Andrew Denton.

A woman whose terminally ill husband lobbied hard for assisted dying to be legalised in Victoria is "over the moon" the controversial laws will come into effect from Wednesday.

Former Shell Coles Express managing director Peter Short, 57, died in 2014 in palliative care after being given terminal sedation for oesophageal cancer.

The Melbourne man had campaigned hard for the laws, which are due to come into effect.

"I'm over the moon and it makes me sad to think that Pete is not around to see it but for everybody else it's a great step forward," his wife Elizabeth Short told 3AW radio.

Under the scheme, terminally ill Victorian adults who meet 68 criteria will be able to ask their doctor for a lethal combination of medication.

Mrs Short said Peter was given Nembutal, known as the "peaceful pill" but in the end chose palliation in hospital.

"He had the choice to end his own life or to choose the route he ended up doing but it was the greatest gift anybody could have given for him," she said.

She added people needed to understand terminal sedation already "happens all the time without regulation".

Go Gentle director Andrew Denton said by putting in place safe and workable assisted dying laws, Victoria has done what no other Australian state was willing to.

"The Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying law has set the benchmark for how public policy should be designed and implemented in this country. The question now is not if but when other states will follow Victoria's compassionate lead," Mr Denton said.

Catholic bishops issued a last-ditch warning against the contentious laws, with a letter signed by four Victorian bishops warning of a "new and deeply troubling chapter of health care".

"We cannot co-operate with the facilitation of suicide even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness," the letter signed by the Melbourne, Ballarat, Sale and Sandhurst bishops said.

Under the voluntary assisted dying laws, patients must be of sound mind and have less than a year to live or under six months for those with neurodegenerative conditions.

Their suffering must also be deemed "intolerable" and they must make three, clear separate requests to die and be assessed by two experienced doctors.

Medical professionals are able to conscientiously object.

Just hours before the new laws came into effect, about 50 protesters with Pro-Life Victoria took to the steps of Victoria's parliament house, objecting to the scheme.

"This legislation is coming into effect despite widespread opposition within the medical community," Pro-life Victoria president Denise Cameron, a former nurse, said.

Australian Associated Press