6 February 2023

The wait is over: Canberrans asked to have their say on voluntary assisted dying legislation

| Claire Fenwicke
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man in hospital bed dying

The ACT is expected to become the seventh jurisdiction to have voluntary assisted dying laws. Photo: Dying with Dignity NSW Facebook.

For 25 years, the Legislative Assembly has been unable to even have a debate about voluntary assisted dying laws.

But the Restoring Territory Rights Bill passed into Federal Law late last year, giving the Assembly that right. Now ACT residents have been asked to voice their opinion about how this law can become a reality in the Territory.

Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne said feedback from this consultation will be used to develop the voluntary assisted dying model that will be used in the ACT.

“With strong community support for voluntary assisted dying in the ACT, this consultation is about understanding the community’s views about how a scheme in the ACT could work, including eligibility criteria and appropriate safeguards,” she said.

A discussion paper is available with a number of key questions to consider, along with information and analysis of voluntary assisted dying schemes already operating in other Australian jurisdictions.

“While we have the benefit of existing legislation and experiences in the Australian states, they are at different stages of implementation, and each jurisdiction has its own unique characteristics,” Ms Cheyne said.

“Through this consultation, we are looking to learn and draw from other jurisdictions’ experiences while developing a model which reflects our own community’s values.”

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There are a wide variety of questions Canberrans need to consider when voicing how they think voluntary assisted dying schemes should operate in the ACT, including a person’s decision-making capacity, expectations of faith-based organisations, and the expected timeframe of a person’s death to be eligible to access the schemes.

In all, there are 35 questions for people to consider, but Ms Cheyne said you could engage as much as you like.

“Each section [of the discussion paper] is broken down into discussion guides which highlight the main theme we’d like feedback on,” she said.

“There are different parts that will probably engage different groups of people in different ways.”

This includes whether nurse practitioners should be included in assessing someone’s eligibility to access voluntary assisted dying schemes and to administer the substance.

Other jurisdictions only allow registered medical practitioners to do so.

Another critical subject will be whether the scheme should be restricted to those over 18 only.

The ACT’s human rights framework recognises and promotes children’s rights, so Ms Cheyne questioned whether restricting the age of participants would also restrict their rights.

“It is important we hear from everybody, including young people, as if we go down the path of other states and have the age of 18 as one of the eligibility criteria, that does have an implication on the child’s rights,” she said.

“But having the conversation with the community in the first place is the place to start.

“We want to ask the ACT community whether an age limit of 18 is reasonable and acceptable given our human rights framework or whether there is another way to go about this.”

Another group the ACT Government wishes to hear from is NSW residents, given our close cross-border relationships in healthcare and beyond.

One question is whether residency should be required when accessing voluntary assisted dying schemes and whether it is even needed, given that every other state now allows it.

“On the face of it, it seems like a residency requirement doesn’t make a lot of sense, but originally it was to inhibit ‘voluntary assisted dying tourism’… where people could move states simply to have access to it,” Ms Cheyne said.

“But on the other hand, if the community determines our model of voluntary assisted dying has some differences to the model generally available in other states, then there might be a reason to have a residency requirement.”

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Voluntary assisted dying advocacy group Go Gentle Australia has commended the ACT Government on moving so quickly now that it was allowed to have the debate.

“It’s been a long time coming. Many don’t know that the ACT was the first jurisdiction in Australia to have a VAD bill tabled in 1993,” CEO Dr Linda Swan said.

“Thirty years later, it’s well past time for ACT residents to have access to this compassionate end-of-life choice.”

Health professionals and other stakeholders will also be engaged during this consultation process.

Consultation will close on Thursday, 6 April 2023, with a listening report to be published summarising the feedback received.

Legislation is expected to be introduced to the ACT Assembly in the second half of this year.

A Parliamentary Committee will also most likely review the legislation before the law is debated.

If the issue of a voluntary assisted dying law raises issues for you or your family, please get in touch with Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Griefline on 1300 845 745.

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So the Barr autocracy thinks it’s OK for young people to make the decision to end their own life, but young offenders are not responsible for the crimes that they deliberately commit. It’s either one or the other. What a bunch of hypocrites.

Capital Retro9:48 am 07 Feb 23

Great product placement for Goodwin Aged Care at the end of this article.

Stephen Saunders9:13 am 07 Feb 23

Thanks, important, long overdue. I wouldn’t be the only one, who has known desperately-ill loved ones to take this course, legally and safely and surrounded by family, in other states.

Equally, I’ve no doubt Kevin Andrews God has reassured him of his utter rectitude. His God is blessed handy like that.

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