Victorian assisted suicide numbers far exceed predictions

In the middle of last year, just before the Victorian euthanasia legislation came into effect, Premier Daniel Andrews estimated that, based on overseas experience, approximately 12 people would die using the state’s euthanasia regime in the first year:

“[We] anticipate in the first twelve months based on overseas experience, around a dozen people will access voluntary assisted dying.  And we would think that number would settle at around 100, 150 per year in the years after.  As I said, this is a conservative model.”

The first statistics from the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board have been released today.  The report covers the first six months of operation.

Daniel Andrews’ predictions have been remarkably wrong, with the actual numbers far exceeding that estimate. In the first six months alone, a total of 52 people have died under the regime (43 by way of self-administration of the drug (assisted suicide) and 9 by practitioner administration (euthanasia)).

The report reveals that:

  • 136 people commenced the assessment process in 6 months;
  • 135 of these were deemed eligible at their first assessment;
  • Of the 102 who went for a consulting assessment, 100 were deemed eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia. 19 of these applications were withdrawn leaving 70 who were approved for assisted suicide and another 11 were approved for euthanasia.

That means that in addition to the 52 deaths in 6 months, another 29 have been approved to die.

That’s two deaths a week occurring.

If these numbers continue, the total number for the year will have exceeded Daniel Andrew’s estimate by 766%.

Despite this, activists have been lobbying for the removal of safeguards in the Victorian law, such as the requirement that patients are seen by a doctor who specialises in their illness, describing it as a “bureaucratic roadblock.”

Could a contributing factor to the much-higher-than-expected assisted suicide numbers be the lack of quality palliative care in the state? Questions have been raised by Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien:

“We don’t have nearly enough palliative care support in Victoria,”

“For a lot of people who are looking at voluntary assisted dying, it’s because palliative care just isn’t available for them.

“I’d much rather see people be confident and be supported and have a good death, if you can have such a thing, and I think the lack of palliative care is an area where the government does need to step up.

The figures released today should not only be of concern to those in Victoria who were promised that this regime had strict safeguards and narrow application, but also to those in other Australian states where much more permissive euthanasia regimes are being proposed.