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Euthanasia becomes legal in Victoria amid criticism

CANBERRA, Australia: Victoria on Wednesday legalised voluntary euthanasia, more than 20 years after the country repealed the world’s first mercy-killing law for the terminally ill

Terminally-ill adults in Vitoria, who are suffering intolerable pain and with less than six months to live, or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases, can request their doctor’s help to die. However, there are 68 safeguards that must be ensured before the application process which takes at least 10 days.

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“There will be perhaps a number of weeks before we become aware that a person has accessed the first permit in Victoria, it’s very difficult to predict the exact timing,” Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told reporters at parliament on Wednesday.

“But look, there are people who have been waiting a long period of time for this change to commence today and my thoughts are with them.”

The coroner and an independent review board, headed by former supreme court justice Betty King, will be alerted to each of the lethal-medication deaths, for review.

According to official estimates, as many as 150 people a year will eventually undergo the euthanasia process.

“We will look at all of the material that has been placed before the people, the secretary who makes the decision, and we will review it to ensure it was compliant with the law,” King said.

“If there is something that is an impediment or blockage, then we will talk about it, we will report it to the parliament.”

It’s been 18 months since parliament narrowly passed the laws.

Catholic Health Australia, which is one of the largest health and aged care service providers in the state, says it does not consider the prescription of lethal medicine a part of end-of-life care.

Four Roman Catholic bishops in Victoria signed an open letter describing Wednesday as a “new and troubling chapter of health care in Victoria.”

“We cannot cooperate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness,” the letter read.

Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory in 1995 became the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. But the Australian Parliament overturned that law in 1997 after four people had been helped to die.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said doctors can conscientiously object to taking part in the scheme and more money was being put into palliative care.

“For the vast majority of Victorians, they will continue to access this world-class palliative care but we know that even the best of palliative care is not sufficient to alleviate the pain and suffering of all individuals,” she said.

The introduction to the scheme should encourage more people to talk about death and their pain, the minister added.

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