Voluntary assisted dying may soon be legal in Queensland. Here’s how its bill differs from other states

Queensland has become the latest Australian state to move forward on the issue of voluntary assisted dying. Bill, prepared by the Queensland Law Reform Commission, should be tabled in parliament next week.

This reflects movements across the country in recent years to allow voluntary assistance in dying (also sometimes called voluntary euthanasia).

Queensland’s laws, if passed, would be similar to those in other states, but not the same.

A brief recap

Victoria’s Law was passed in November 2017 and came into effect in June 2019 after an 18-month implementation period.

Next is Western Australia, whose 2019 law comes into force on July 1, 2021.

Tasmania passed a voluntary assisted dying law in March this year, is expected to start in 2022.

And South Australia’s lower house is now considering its own bill, following the the upper house approved the bill earlier this month.

In New South Wales, Independent MP Alex Greenwich draft law on voluntary assisted dying. It is due out in July for consultation.

The Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory do not have the legislative authority to pass laws on voluntary assisted dying. But there is active efforts to repeal Commonwealth law which prohibits territories from considering it.

Read more: WA’s view on assisted dying has many similarities to Victorian law – and some important differences

Reflecting on Victoria’s Experience

In preparing the bill, the Queensland Law Reform Commission had the opportunity to reflect on the body of evidence emerging on how Victoria’s Law works in practice.

While the guarantees of Victoria’s assisted voluntary death system working to ensure that only eligible patients can access it, questions have been raised on challenges to access the law. For example, some people may not necessarily know the option exists, so navigating the eligibility assessment process can be demanding.

A background like this from the Victoria experience led the commission to recommend certain exemptions from laws enacted elsewhere in Australia.

In Victoria, voluntary assisted dying laws have been in place for almost two years.

the the commission approach aimed to design “the best legal framework for a voluntary assisted dying program in Queensland” and not to be “constrained by similar laws in other Australian states”.

In other words, the goal was to design an optimal law, rather than simply passing another state’s law because it was passed first.

How is Queensland’s proposed law different?

Some features are common to all Australian Voluntary Assistance in Dying Laws. For example, the eligibility criteria usually include the requirements that a person has an advanced and progressive disease that will cause death and is intolerably suffering from it. The person must also be an adult, have the ability to make decisions, act on a voluntary basis and meet various residency requirements.

The eligibility criteria for the Queensland proposal are different depending on the person’s life expectancy. A person is eligible for voluntary assistance in dying under the Queensland Bill if they are supposed to die within 12 months. Under other australian models, the period is six months, except for progressive neurological conditions, in which case it is 12 months.

Although some commentators (including us) question the need for a fixed period, a 12-month limit is a more consistent approach than the existing approach of six or 12 months elsewhere.

First of all, it is very difficult to justify have different deadlines for accessing voluntary assistance in dying depending on the nature of your illness.

Second, a longer eligibility period allows a person diagnosed with a medical condition more time to apply for voluntary assisted dying. This can allow patients to start the application process a bit earlier and reduce the likelihood that they will die before they have access to assisted death (as the process can take some time).

Read more: Voluntary assisted dying is not a black and white issue for Christians – they can, in good faith, support it

Another novelty is the Queensland bill which limits the ability of institutions to oppose voluntary assisted dying. This is a first in Australia, as the laws of Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania only deal with allowing individual healthcare professionals to exercise conscience.

This is important because there is proof in Victoria that institutions block access to voluntary assisted dying. A media report describes a Catholic palliative care center prohibiting access to pharmacists dispensing the voluntary aid in dying medicine to a patient.

The commission recommends creating legislative processes so that the access of eligible patients to voluntary assisted dying is not unreasonably hampered by institutional objections.

A woman wearing an oxygen mask lies in a hospital bed.  Another woman comforts her.
A person could be eligible for voluntary assistance in dying under the Queensland proposal if they are expected to die within 12 months.

Will the Queensland bill become law?

After the invoice is deposit in the Queensland parliament next week it will be referred to the Parliamentary Health Committee (which originally recommended a reform). This committee will have a 12 week consultation period.

Parliament is expected to vote on the bill in September, and if the law is passed, it will likely come into force in January 2023. As in other states, an implementation period ensures that the system of assisted voluntary death is ready before the law comes into force.

As is usually the case in such debates, the two main parties gave their MPs a vote of conscience. Although Queensland is the Australian state only for never having considered a voluntary bill on assisted dying, its single parliamentary chamber may mean that the law is more likely to pass.

In addition, given the growth national trend To enable voluntary assisted dying and the prudent and measured legal reform process, we anticipate Queensland will likely pass voluntary assisted dying laws this year.

Read more: From Oregon to Belgium to Victoria – the different ways suffering patients are allowed to die

About Norman Griggs

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