Voluntary assisted dying, also known as voluntary euthanasia, is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated for many years in Australia. In recent times, there has been a growing interest and discussion about the legal, ethical, and practical aspects of voluntary assisted dying in the country.
This comprehensive guide aims to provide a thorough overview of voluntary assisted dying, covering its history, legal framework, eligibility and criteria, process, and much more.
History of voluntary assisted dying in Australia.
Voluntary assisted dying has a long history of debate and discussion in Australia. The topic gained significant attention in the late 20th century when various attempts were made to introduce legislation allowing voluntary euthanasia.
However, these attempts faced strong opposition from different quarters, including religious groups, medical associations, and ethicists, leading to the failure of such legislation.
Legal framework for voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 (the Act) was passed in September 2021 and was made accessible to eligible Queenslanders starting from 1 January 2023. The Act provides for and regulates access to VAD, which is defined as 'the administration of a voluntary assisted dying substance and includes steps reasonably related to that administration'.
The Act also acknowledges the rights of healthcare workers to abstain from participating in voluntary assisted dying. It is important for medical practitioners, healthcare workers, and health services to understand their rights, responsibilities, and roles as outlined in the Act.
Throughout the implementation phase, Queensland Health focused on establishing the necessary clinical and administrative systems to ensure that voluntary assisted dying is delivered with utmost quality, safety, accessibility, and compassion.
Eligibility and criteria for voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.
To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying in Queensland, there are strict criteria that must be met. These criteria are designed to ensure that only individuals who are genuinely suffering and near the end of life can access voluntary assisted dying.
Here is a comprehensive list of eligibility. A person is eligible if they:
- are aged 18 years or over;
- are an Australian citizen or
- a permanent resident of Australia (this includes New Zealand citizens who hold a special category visa as defined by the Migration Act 1958 (Commonwealth)), or
- have been ordinarily resident in Australia for at least three years immediately before making the first request:
- must also have been either ordinarily resident in Queensland for at least 12 months immediately before making a first request, or granted a Queensland residency exemption by Queensland Health.
- have decision-making capacity;
- are acting voluntarily and without coercion;
- have a disease, illness or medical condition that is:
- advanced, progressive and will cause death
- expected to cause death within 12 months
- causing suffering that you consider to be intolerable. Suffering can include physical suffering, mental suffering, suffering caused by treatment provided for the disease, illness or medical condition.
A person will not be eligible for voluntary assisted dying based on having a disability or mental illness alone. A person with disability or mental illness may be eligible if they also have a disease, illness or medical condition that is expected to cause their death within the timeframe, and meet all of the other eligibility criteria.
Process of accessing voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.
Voluntary assisted dying in Queensland involves three primary phases and various steps. It is crucial to understand that you have the option to discontinue the process at any stage.
The process of voluntary assisted dying begins with an initial request and assessment, followed by a consulting assessment and further requests. The final request is subject to a final review before moving on to the next phase. The administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance follows the review and includes several steps such as deciding on its administration, appointing a contact person, prescribing and supplying the substance, and its eventual administration resulting in the person's death. After the person passes away, the substance must be disposed of and a death notification provided.
These steps are essential to ensure that the process of voluntary assisted dying is carried out with utmost care and compliance with legal and ethical guidelines.
Safeguards and protections.
A range of safeguards are included to ensure voluntary assisted dying in Queensland is only accessed by people who are eligible. These safeguards include protecting people from coercion, abuse and exploitation.
A fundamental safeguard is that a person needs to have decision-making capacity at all stages of the process. The person’s decision-making capacity must be independently assessed by two doctors.
The Act also requires that the person be assessed as acting voluntarily and without coercion, to be informed about other end-of-life options, and to demonstrate their choice is enduring.
Safeguards also include:
- strict eligibility criteria
- a staged request and assessment process
- a requirement that an administration decision be made in consultation with and on the advice of the coordinating practitioner
- qualification and training requirements for practitioners involved
- independent oversight by the Review Board
- offences (punishable by fines or imprisonment of up to 7 years) for anyone who induces a person to access VAD.
- protections from liability for persons assisting another person, in good faith, to access VAD.
The VAD Review Board is responsible for monitoring, reporting, research, and review of eligible decisions.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 in Queensland is a highly researched and extensively examined legislation. It is the result of over three years of work, which included two parliamentary committee inquiries and a year-long investigation conducted by the independent and knowledgeable Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC).
The process began in 2018, with the Health, Communities, Disability Services, and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee conducting broader policy work from 2018 to 2020. Throughout this period, a total of 39 hearings took place, gathering testimonies, opinions, and stories from numerous experts and witnesses. Additionally, more than 10,000 written submissions were received from various individuals and organisations across the state. Consultations were conducted with diverse stakeholders, including the general community, clinical and legal experts, health and care providers, religious groups, unions, and many others.
During the debate of the Bill, Members of Parliament were granted a conscience vote. Prior to the voting, many legislators organised forums and engaged with their local communities for consultation purposes.
Final thoughts on voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is a multifaceted and sensitive topic that involves various legal, ethical, medical, and societal considerations. It provides a compassionate option for individuals who are facing intolerable suffering and wish to have control over their own end-of-life decisions. However, it also raises concerns about potential risks, abuse, and ethical implications.
Ultimately, this should be approached respectfully as it can be a sensitive topic for many. Allowing people to die on their own terms means they can have a good death where their access to care and choices are respected. Furthermore, openly discussing death and dying can help prepare families for the passing and voluntary assisted dying can keep them more involved in the process, so they can ensure they’re close by for the final goodbye.
Part of being prepared for your end-of-life is planning for your funeral in advance with a Prepaid Funeral. If you’re interested in a Bare Prepaid Funeral, you can head to the link below for an instant quote for your area, or give our incredible Prepaid team a call on 1800 202 901.