In 2017 the Victorian government passed legislation on voluntary assisted dying, which came into force in June 2019, and Western Australia and Tasmania have now followed suit. There are also bills being passed and discussions taking place in the other states.
It is important for doctors to understand voluntary assisted dying laws in their state and the potential implications for their practice.
From 1 July, the Western Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 will come into effect.
The legislation has many similarities to Victoria’s Act – any doctor wishing to participate in the voluntary assisted dying process needs to meet the eligibility criteria and then complete the WA Voluntary Assisted Dying Approved Training. Once completed, they can participate, as coordinating, consulting or administering practitioner.
If a doctor’s beliefs and values conflict with voluntary assisted dying, they may conscientiously object to being involved. However, they must inform the patient of the refusal and give the patient the Approved Information booklet.
A key difference between the laws in Western Australia and in Victoria, is that in Western Australia a doctor can, during a discussion about their end-of-life choices, initiate the conversation with their patient about voluntary assisted dying as one option. They must also discuss treatment and palliative care options and the likely outcomes of that treatment and care with the patient at the same time.
Under the Commonwealth’s Criminal Code Act 1995 some information about voluntary assisted dying cannot be provided over telehealth and needs to be discussed in person. A Regional Access Support Scheme will be set up and managed by the Western Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Statewide Care Navigator Service. This means that if people live outside of the metropolitan areas and are not able to access a doctor in their local area, the Care Navigators can support them through this scheme.
This summary of the voluntary assisted dying process provides Western Australian doctors with a high-level overview of the steps involved.
Any doctor wishing to participate in the process should refer to the guidelines.
The End of Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Act 2020 was passed in the Parliament of Tasmania in March this year. It is expected to come into force in the second half of 2022.
Tasmanian doctors are not obliged to participate in the process. Similar to Western Australia, doctors can initiate discussions with people about voluntary assisted dying, provided they also discuss the person’s treatment and palliative care options at the same time.
The Tasmanian legislation has two noteworthy differences compared to the Victorian and Western Australian legislation. Firstly, the person’s first request to access the voluntary assisted dying scheme must be done in person, but subsequent consultations can be done via telehealth. This is despite the prohibition in the Commonwealth’s Criminal Code Act 1995 on using a carriage service (telephone / video conferencing) for consultations of this nature. The Victorian Review Board has urged the Commonwealth to consider an exemption.
Secondly, the Tasmanian legislation allows for people to make an application to the Commission to be exempt from the usual temporal limits of the relevant medical condition definition (one that is expected to cause death in 6 month, or 12 months if it is a neurogenerative disease).
With 17 attempts, South Australia has had the most attempts of any state to pass voluntary assisted dying legislation. In June 2021, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed.
The Bill was modelled off the Victorian legislation and includes the provision that doctors must not initiate discussions with people about voluntary assisted dying. The law is expected to come into effect by the end of 2022.
In May 2021 the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 was introduced into the Queensland Parliament, and is expected to be debated in September 2021. If it passes, the scheme would commence on 1 January 2023.
The Queensland legislation (as it is currently drafted) does not distinguish between neurogenerative diseases and other diseases, unlike the legislation in other states. To be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying a person in Queensland must have been diagnosed with a medical condition that is expected to cause death within 12 months. This is slightly broader than the other states which have a 6-month requirement (apart from neurogenerative diseases).
New South Wales
In December 2020, independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich announced that he is drafting legislation to legalise voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales. He hopes to present the Bill to Parliament in September 2021, following a release of the draft in July 2021.
Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory
In 1995, the Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in Australia to pass voluntary assisted dying legislation. The law came into effect in 1996, but by 1997 the Commonwealth had passed legislation that overrode the right of the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory to legalise assisted dying.
In a press release issued March 2021, both territories called on the Federal Government to restore the rights for their jurisdictions to legislate on the issue.
Avant’s position statement on voluntary assisted dying
Avant’s submissions on voluntary assisted dying