4 December 2022

ACT Government right to take its time on voluntary assisted dying bill

| Ian Bushnell
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Drafting and debating voluntary assisted dying legislation will be an emotional time. Photo: File.

The 25-year-old slight to the people of the ACT has been erased with the passing of the Territory Rights Bill in the Senate, eliciting a combination of joy and relief for those who have campaigned hard and long for the Territory to makes its on laws on voluntary assisted dying.

The ACT may have been seen as the nation’s petri dish for dangerous experimentation but the so-called Andrews Bill that stymied attempts to legislate on this matter has been overtaken by changed attitudes across the rest of Australia, along with the obvious fact that Territorians here and in the Top End should have the same democratic rights as their state counterparts.

While the vote was hailed a momentous victory, the tone was not too triumphal, given the gravity of the subject matter behind the Territory rights push.

It is important to remember that while an ACT law for voluntary assisted dying may be the eventual outcome, Thursday night’s vote was about restoring Territory rights.

While most involved may support that choice for people, it was not a vote explicitly endorsing voluntary assisted dying.

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That will now be a matter for the ACT community and their representatives in the Legislative Assembly.

Given that a clear majority of MLAs support voluntary assisted dying, the Government could take the opportunity to introduce a bill quickly and have it passed without too much fuss.

But it has correctly chosen the more cautious path so that any legislation reflects the will of the community and includes the safeguards, and checks and balances the community expects.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the process would be thorough, and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the community did not want this to be rushed.

The Government seems to accept the heavy responsibility it bears bringing this to the Assembly despite what polls have shown to be overwhelming support for the idea of voluntary assisted dying.

The Government does not have a preferred model, indeed it could not even have started to explore its options while the Commonwealth legislation stood.

Wisely, it will look at the current six schemes operating in the states, take in what the community says and hopefully come up with legislation that fits and suits the ACT.

It is no surprise that the Government has already identified where some of the concerns will be, apart from the obvious. These include the age thresholds, the fears of the disabled community, and how members of the medical profession will or won’t be involved.

Legislation will have to ensure proper oversight – including preventing coercion – assessment of patients, and integrity of the path to ending life.

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Those worried about palliative care being undermined have been reassured that if anything it will have more not less of a place.

Mr Barr is hopeful of a respectful debate, despite the passions the issue can stir.

But he and others should expect that for some the idea will remain unconscionable and a slippery slope to normalising the taking of life.

Powerful arguments have been mounted on both sides and, for many, next year’s road to a bill will be an emotional one.

It will still be tricky for the Government to provide a scheme that is accessible while accommodating the range of concerns.

Implementing and overseeing a scheme could prove just as tricky.

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As a resident of the ACT, I would like to see dementia added to the list of terminal illnesses. This is also being considered in Victoria and WA. BTW the WA Laws are most advanced as they were the third cab off the rank and learned from other states.
My mother was diagnosed two years before she died unable to breathe, strapped to n oxygen generator, unable to swallow, had so much cognitive inability she could no longer able to go work out how to urinate or defacate and unable to use her hands to do anything. She died over 3 days in Calvary in the ‘back room’, untransferred to the hospice. She was in extreme distress for much of this last year. She had on diagnosis requested to voluntarily die but no laws were in place. This is the type of suffering that cannot be alleviated by palliative care; drugging to the eyeballs denies family and friends to spend quality time with their loved one after they have decided to die it while they are still mentally ale to communicate. I still cry at the thought of what she and we went through.

I take your point, Amanda Kiley, that there are those currently in the community who will not be able to obtain the relief they seek due the the delay. However, as per the example cited by Lynn Stape, the legislation needs to be well thought out and considered (especially in terms of the checks and balances) and there needs to be wide spread community consultation. This is arguably one of the most difficlult pieces of legislation that a jurisdiction can enact and it needs to be done right, to ensure that those accessing VAD are totally in control of the decision to do so.

Amanda Kiley3:52 pm 05 Dec 22

Please! If they were serious about this it would be prioritised. They are waiting until after the next election as it will be a point of difference between them and the LNP. Meanwhile, people waiting for this legislation will wait longer than necessary or die (in unnecessary pain) waiting. ALP fail yet again to serve the citizens of Canberra and instead serve themselves.

So many people in Canberra are depressed and unhappy. The woeful ACT government causes distress to citizens.

Jorie 1 VAD is NOT for the ‘depressed and unhappy’ – it is for people who are dying with unalleviable suffering. None of them would qualify. If the ACT Government causes distress to its citizens, are you taking up your rights to have input to everything they are proposing to do?

Dear Mr Barr & Co. Instead of trying to rush through legislation to kill off your constituents, how about improving healthcare and the hospital system so that your constituents have a better chance of living a better and longer life?

Ummm “… rush through legislation …”? Did you actually read the article, Gary Stuart, or did you just decide to have a totally unrelated rant?

JustSaying – I’m basing my “rant” on what legislation this government has rushed/pushed/forced upon Canberrans in the past.

Gary Stuart – what a heartless thing to say to those many suffering immensely in Palliative Care….

Nebylewt – I am truly sorry for those currently in palliative care (I’ve had many friends and family spend their last months and weeks at Clare Holland) but don’t you think that the current state of our health system is broken? Don’t you think that some of those in palliative care could’ve been cured/life extended if the health system was working properly?

OK, Gary Stuart. So your rant is totally irrelevant with respect to the topic of discussion in this post
As for those in palliative care being cured or having their life extended? You don’t really understand what a terminal illness is do you? While I certainly agree that the ACT health system is far from ideal, palliative care is provided for a person with an active, progressive, advanced disease, who has little or no prospect of cure and who is expected to die, and for whom the primary goal is to optimise the quality of life.
Please don’t use the suffering of others to advance your own soap box politics.

JustSaying – I am well aware of why people are in palliative care. As I said – I’ve had many family and friends spend their last moments at Clare Holland (a wonderful facility who employ great health professionals).

I’m saying that if we had a fully functioning health system where diseases were treated earlier and patients survived or at worst, got to have a longer life, why isn’t that the goal instead of what is being proposed.

And for the record, I’m getting pretty bored with of the petty name calling that continually gets thrown my way. I’m always happy to have a healthy conversation and debate – yourself and others should too.

JustSaying – I am well aware of why people are in palliative care. As I said – I’ve had many family and friends spend their last moments at Clare Holland (a wonderful facility who employ great health professionals).

I’m saying that if we had a fully functioning health system where diseases were treated earlier and patients survived or at worst, got to have a longer life, why isn’t that the goal instead of what is being proposed.

And for the record, I’m getting pretty bored with the petty name calling that continually gets thrown my way. I’m always happy to have a healthy conversation and debate – yourself and others should too.

Gary Stuart … I would call accusing you of soapbox politics a valid observation rather than ‘petty name calling’. You are using the matter of VAD as an opportunity to have a rant about the ACT health system. The topic of this article is the fact that the CM has stated that ACT will not rush to introduce VAD legislation which I am happy to discuss. However, you seem to want to blame the ACT health system for the fact that people will want to access VAD. I’m simply saying that your rant over the health system has nothing to do with the VAD debate and my initial dismissal of your “… rush through legislation …” comment is still very appropriate.

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