States take more steps on voluntary assisted dying laws

Jolyon Attwooll

28/06/2021 5:26:10 PM

There have been significant moves on voluntary assisted dying legislation around the country this month.

Younger person holding hands of older adult.
Western Australia will follow Victoria this week by becoming the second state to have voluntary assisted dying legislation come into effect.

Voluntary assisted dying legislation was passed by South Australia’s lower house last week, meaning it will certainly come into effect as it had already been approved by the upper house.
The vote was the culmination of a lengthy campaign to legalise voluntary assisted dying in South Australia, and was the 17th attempt in 26 years to have legislation passed.
The bill was largely modelled on the law passed in Victoria in 2017, which came into effect in June 2019.
Only those with an advanced disease likely to cause death within six months – or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases – are eligible to be part of the process.
It is also only open to those older than 18 who have been living in the state for at least a year and are a permanent resident of Australia.
As in Victoria, there must be two doctors making independent assessments of any requests for voluntary assisted dying.
Likewise, as per other states, no health practitioner or healthcare provider is obliged to take part in the voluntary assisted dying process in South Australia and conscientious objectors are legally protected.
The law may be in effect within 18 months, reports the ABC.
The vote of the South Australian Parliament means there are now four states in Australia which have legalised voluntary assisted dying, including Tasmania and Western Australia, as well as Victoria.
Western Australia is preparing to be the second state after Victoria where the legislation will come into effect. Their new laws, which were passed in December 2019, will enter into force on Thursday 1 July. 
Reports this week suggest only a handful of medical practitioners in Western Australia have taken up the training required to help terminally ill people end their lives.
Legislation was also passed in the Tasmanian Parliament in March, with the law expected to come into effect in that state next year.
Meanwhile, in Queensland, a consultation period in which the public can make submissions for a proposed draft law will end this week. It follows the release of a Queensland Law Reform Commission report into voluntary assisted dying, with a parliamentary debate and vote now scheduled for September.  
If Queensland MPs approve the bill it is likely the state will be the fifth to implement voluntary assisted dying laws. While Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk backs the bill, she has said MPs in her party are allowed a conscience vote on the issue.
Despite the recent changes in four other states – and the legislation under review in Queensland –changes to the law in New South Wales are likely to be slower.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich is one of the main proponents of change, with advocates for voluntary assisted dying hoping draft legislation will be heard in the state parliament later this year.
Previous attempts to pass similar legislation were blocked in the NSW Parliament in 2017 by one vote.
The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are at this point unable to pass their own laws on the issue, a situation that legislators in both regions are seeking to overturn.
A report published in February by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board in Victoria outlines the impact the new legislation has had so far since the law came into force two years ago.
It showed that 581 people were assessed for eligibility for voluntary assisted dying. Of those, 465 applications were made and 405 permits issued.
A total of 224 people had died in the state up until the end of December last year from taking the prescribed substance, and there had been 455 medical practitioners registered for the online training program within the same timeframe.
GPs formed the majority of practitioners actively involved in the process.
An article was also published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia, entitled: ‘Participating doctors’ perspectives on the regulation of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria: a qualitative study’.
It concluded that participating doctors reported ‘only limited concerns’ about the legislation, but these included ‘implications for the accessibility of voluntary assisted dying to eligible patients’.
Authors said most concerns could be ‘ameliorated by improving the processes and systems’.
The RACGP issued a position statement on voluntary assisted dying in June 2019, acknowledging the range of views on voluntary assisted dying, both within the general practice profession and the broader community.
In that statement, the RACGP – which did not take a formal position on whether voluntary assisted dying should be legalised – said it supported ‘patient-centred decisions in end-of-life care, and respects that this may include palliative care and requests for voluntary assisted dying’.
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