3 June 2024

People with dementia won't be able to access VAD in Canberra but it's not the end of the conversation

| Claire Fenwicke
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elderly couple holding hands in hospital

A bill to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws in the ACT is being debated in the Legislative Assembly this week. Photo: Dying with Dignity NSW Facebook.

An ACT Labor backbencher has decided not to introduce amendments to the proposed voluntary assisted dying (VAD) law to extend the service to people with dementia.

Murrumbidgee MLA Dr Marisa Paterson announced she was considering amendments to allow people with early-stage dementia and other loss of capacity issues during the in-principle debate of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2023 in May.

A consultation draft was released to the public, and feedback was sought from 16 to 29 May.

She said the consultation process had been “incredibly positive” and there had been “significant engagement” around the issue.

However, it also led her to believe more time was needed to consider this Australia-first change to the proposed legislation.

“What was very clear was the overarching support to address the issue of access to VAD following loss of capacity,” Dr Paterson said.

“However, there were concerns raised over the short timeframe of consultation and issues identified that still need to be worked through.”

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Instead of moving her amendments when the debate resumes today (4 June), Dr Paterson has instead decided to move a motion on Thursday (6 June) calling on the government to address the loss of capacity issue and explore an appropriate model for the ACT.

“There is a gap in all Australian VAD legislation to date when an individual has gone through all the requests and approval stages to access VAD, and then they lose capacity,” she said.

“What has been really clear through this process over the last couple of weeks is that the ACT is ready to explore how to address this issue.”

Her motion would require the ACT Government to report back by the end of May 2025.

Dr Paterson thanked those in the community who had shared their stories and voiced their support for taking VAD a step further.

“Your stories and experiences have had a profound impact on me, and I hope that there is comfort knowing that this issue is on the table, it is being taken seriously and there will be a pathway through this,” she said.

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Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne has already signalled that the government will be moving some further amendments to the proposed law, as has Shadow Health Minister Leanne Castley.

The detail stage of the bill will be debated today, with a final vote on whether to pass the legislation into law expected to occur tomorrow (5 June).

If passed, the VAD scheme is expected to begin in the Territory on 3 November 2025.

If voluntary assisted dying raises issues for you or your family, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Griefline on 1300 845 745.

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I love the idea of adding dementia and reduced capacity generally but let’s get the basic legislation through tomorrow. It can always be amended later on.

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