Labor split emerges over assisted dying

Farrah Tomazin

A split has emerged in the highest ranks of the Victorian government over voluntary euthanasia, with Premier Daniel Andrews and his deputy at odds about the state’s plans to permit assisted dying.

One week after the government announced it would draft legisla­tion giving terminally ill people the right to an assisted death, Deputy Premier James Merlino has con­firmed he does not support chan­ging the law and will vote against the bill when it is introduced into State Parliament next year.

“My view is that the evidence clearly shows that, no matter the safeguards that a Parliament puts in place in terms of legislation, the safeguards don’t work. The outcome can go beyond the intention of the Parliament; that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Mr Merlino, who is aligned to Labor’s Catholic-affiliated SDA faction.

“People absolutely want control over the care that they receive and the care they don’t receive; but that can be delivered through the recent changes we’ve made around advance care directives, and by delivering the very best palliative care that we can.”

Mr Merlino’s view sits in contrast to the Premier as well as many other cabinet colleagues, who are in favour of reform.

However, he is not alone in his opposition, with factional Labor ally Daniel Mulino, Victorian Lib­eral leader Matthew Guy, and DLP crossbencher Rachel Carling-Jenkins among the state politi­cians who have already made it clear they will not back physician-assisted death when the issue is put to a conscience vote in the second half of 2017.

Nonetheless, the prospect of legislative change edged closer to reality last week, with the appoint­ment of a ministerial advisory panel that will help guide the gov­ernment as it drafts legislation in coming months.

The Sunday Age can reveal the group will be chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler, a trained neurosurgeon who is seen as a strong appointment because he understands the broad-ranging views held by doctors.

The panel will also include Mar­garet O’Connor, professor of nurs­ing at Swinburne University, and Roger Hunt, a palliative care phys­ician.

The appointment of the advisory panel is an important next step in what will inevitably be a challen­ging debate, particularly for many MPs whose personal experiences shape their views.

Professor Owler said: “There are times when, despite the best efforts of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, people do suffer. I think it’s important that we do get legislation that is both safe but also compassionate, and allows people in particular circum­stances to access assisted dying.”