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Australia: Man ends life using assisted suicide drugs intended for his wife

A man in Queensland, Australia has ended his life using assisted suicide drugs intended for his wife.

The law permitting assisted suicide came into force at the beginning of this year, and permits the prescribing of lethal drugs to those who fulfil the eligibility criteria, and who can then self-administer these drugs at a time, place and date of their own choosing. The law also requires  any unused drugs prescribed for assisted suicide to be returned to the appropriate authority within 14 days

However, according to local reports, after a woman was prescribed the lethal drugs and died before she was able to consume them, her elderly husband took the drugs himself. The incident is currently under investigation by Queensland Health with the findings to be referred to the coroner.

John Daffy, speaking on behalf of the Australian Care Alliance, said that the incident was “100 per cent predictable”. “We warned about this exact situation unfolding when all of these laws came in” he added.

14-day turnaround for unused lethal drugs to be reviewed

The national director of the pro-assisted suicide group, Voluntary Assisted Dying Australia and New Zealand (VADANZ), Dr Cameron McLaren, said that there was no way of knowing whether the man in question would have ended his own life even without the use of lethal drugs prescribed for his wife.

“We know spousal suicide after bereavement does occur; this is not limited to VAD [Voluntary Assisted Dying] cases”, he said.

The state health minister said the law that allowed this to happen would be examined and the Government would decide whether it should be amended. “We will look at absolutely whether we need to strengthen the legislation about that 14 day turn around for medication to be returned, which I suspect we will do”, she said.

According to reports, 245 people have ended their lives under the assisted suicide law in Queensland in the first six months of its operation.

Study finds ‘wish-to-die’ is transient

There has been some research into people’s long-term desires regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia.

A 2021 study in Ireland found that almost three-quarters of people over 50 who had previously expressed a wish to die no longer had that desire two years later. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), surveyed 8,174 people over the age of 50 and found that 3.5% expressed a wish to die at Wave 1 of the study.

However, as the report states: “Seventy-two per cent of these participants no longer reported a wish to die when reassessed 2 years later”.

Researchers behind the study from Trinity College Dublin found that the “wish to die” among older people is often “transient” and linked with depression and feelings of loneliness. Furthermore, TILDA found that 60% of those who reported a wish to die also had “clinically significant” depressive symptoms while half had been diagnosed with depression.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said “Supplying lethal drugs intended for one person who is permitted by law to end their own life with these drugs at a time of their choosing, without the requirement that another person be present, let alone a doctor, will obviously lead to this kind of situation. Without oversight, this was bound to happen. This is just a small illustration of one of the many ways in which supposed ‘safeguards’ fail”.

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