Melbourne: Australia's state of Victoria on Wednesday became the first in the country to legalize euthanasia for the terminally ill as the law on voluntary assisted death (VAD) entered into force.
The VAD law, which was passed in November 2017, provides for each case to be individually reviewed by a commission that will determine whether or not to approve the euthanasia procedure, reports Efe news.
"This is the most conservative model of its kind in the world, with 68 individual safeguards in place," Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said in a statement. "This is about giving people who are suffering intolerably from an incurable disease a voluntary, compassionate choice over the manner of their death."
Applicants must be either decision-making adults who suffer from an incurable, progressive and advanced disease which could potentially cause their death within six months or patients with a neuro-degenerative disease who have been given a life expectancy of 12 months or lower.
Patients should also be supported by doctors treating them and only a single pharmacy in Melbourne will provide the drugs needed for an assisted death.
According to the law, patients will receive drugs within 10 days. They can request them only after passing two independent medical examinations and must administer them themselves, with the exception of some specifically-outlined special cases.
The law's entry into force was preceded by a public letter issued this week by the four bishops of Victoria, who rejected the measure on moral grounds.
On the other hand, the decision was welcomed by potential applicants such as former nurse Nia Sims, who suffers from a rare autoimmune progressive disease called Scleroderma.
Euthanasia has been a subject of intense debate in Australia thanks to high-profile cases such as that of 104-year-old scientist David Goodall, who last year decided to undergo euthanasia in Switzerland despite not suffering from any terminal illness.
Over two decades ago, the Northern Territory's parliament passed the 1995 Terminally Ill Act by a vote of 15 to 10. It entered into force on July 1, 1996, but it was nullified the following year when the federal parliament passed the Euthanasia Laws Act.
Nevertheless, four people died through assisted suicide before the law was repealed. They were aided by Philip Nitschke, a doctor who runs the pro-euthanasia organization "Exit International" and who spearheaded the campaign that led to the passing of the law.