'This substance will cause death’: New euthanasia rules announced
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'This substance will cause death’: New euthanasia rules announced

Victoria’s health department head will have three days to decide whether to sign off on each bid for voluntary euthanasia when the practice becomes legal in nine months time.

Euthanasia drugs will also have to be kept in a steel box with a label affixed warning “this substance will cause death”.

The rules were announced this week through a new set of regulations that answer some of the remaining questions about how Victoria’s assisted dying laws will be overseen.

One of the drugs that could be used for voluntary euthanasia.

One of the drugs that could be used for voluntary euthanasia.

It is understood work is under way that would allow the state government to import lethal medications used elsewhere in the world.

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They could include pentobarbital (better known as Nembutal) and another barbiturate sedative known as secobarbital, which are banned for human use in Australia.

A Therapeutic Goods Administration spokeswoman said while it was an offence to supply therapeutic goods for human use if they are not registered, there were exemptions.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the regulations introduced on Tuesday meant all laws were now in place to make voluntary assisted dying available to patients.

“We've established the safest and most conservative scheme in the world, with the most stringent checks and balances,” she said.

Come June 19 next year, Victorians will be able to access assistance to end their lives if they have been diagnosed with a disease that is expected to cause their death within six months.

They will need to have been deemed eligible by two medical practitioners and have made two separate requests for access, including one in writing.

A permit will be granted or refused by the health department secretary (or another senior public servant) within three business days, but possibly earlier if the patient is very sick.

The secretary will have six documents to help them make the decision including details of the person’s disease and diagnosis, a declaration they have decision-making capacity and the details of a contact person who will be tasked with disposing of any unused euthanasia drug.

In the first year of operation it’s expected only a few dozen people will apply for a permit, but this could increase to one person every two or three days in subsequent years as more people become familiar with the laws.

In exceptional circumstances, where a person is expected to die imminently, the entire process from initial request for euthanasia to death could be completed within just a couple of days. Otherwise, at least nine days must elapse between the first and final request for voluntary assisted dying.

Aisha Dow reports on health for The Age and is a former city reporter.

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