5 June 2024

Voluntary assisted dying legalised in ACT after 30-year battle

| Oliver Jacques
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politicians celebrating the passing of a VAD bill in Parliament House

There were tears on the Assembly floor as Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne’s (centre, hugging Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith) Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill became law. Photo: Supplied.

Adults with advanced illnesses expected to cause death and facing intolerable suffering will now be eligible to take steps to end their life in the ACT after voluntary assisted dying legislation passed the Legislative Assembly today (5 June).

All Labor and Greens Legislative Assembly members voted in favour of an amended Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill introduced by Labor Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne in October last year.

Five of the nine Liberal members voted against – Ed Cocks, Jeremy Hanson, Elizabeth Kikkert, James Milligan and Peter Cain.

“This is a significant moment for the ACT Legislative Assembly. It follows years of advocacy from MLAs past and present to restore Territory Rights,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.

“I thank every Canberran who has supported the journey that has taken another step forward today.”

Voluntary assisted dying services are expected to be operational in the ACT by November 2025, following an implementation process.

All states and territories in Australia now have legal provisions for VAD except the Northern Territory.

VAD patients need to have lived in the ACT for at least 12 months, though those living outside the capital with a connection to Canberra may also be approved at the discretion of the Health Directorate. The person must also be capable of making their own decision and the process needs to be approved by two doctors.

Healthcare professionals will have the right to conscientiously object to participating in voluntary assisted dying. An independent VAD Oversight Board will be established to monitor the operation of the law and ensure compliance.

A review in three years will consider the possibility of extending VAD provisions to people with dementia, children and those living outside the ACT.

“We have the best legislation in the country,” Ms Cheyne said.

“Today is the culmination of years of effort and engagement. I greatly value that so many people shared their powerful and often very difficult personal stories, all of which had a role in guiding the development of this bill.”

Liberal MLA Jeremy Hanson spoke strongly against the bill, claiming Labor had opened the door for children to die. Several proposed amendments moved by his party were voted down.

In 1993, a VAD bill was introduced in the ACT Legislative Assembly by Independent member Michael Moore but failed to pass.

READ ALSO ‘It haunts me to this day’: How voluntary assisted dying laws could also reduce trauma for police

Four years later, the then-Coalition federal government stripped territories of the right to legislate on VAD. This was overturned by the current Labor federal government in 2022, soon after which consultation on VAD began in the ACT.

Members of the community can visit a voluntary assisted dying information page for more details and to subscribe for updates on voluntary assisted dying in the ACT. This website will be updated regularly as work progresses on the voluntary assisted dying scheme.

If the issue of 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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My brother was bundled off to a hospice from a care home. He did not want to die, but he was doped up until his body just gave up. I saw him lying on his bed in a vegetative state, and only a week after texting each other about Eels and Sea Eagles matches.
Yes he was in pain but he did not want to die, especially in some hospice tucked away behind bushes

Condolences for the loss of your brother, but what does his death have to do with VAD? Under the new law he will have been deemed to have not indicated his desire to access it.

Many of us have similar stories. I watched my mother die a slow and painful death, despite the drugs, and she constantly expressed the wish to die with dignity, but sadly VAD was not available to her. Had the legislation been enacted back then in SA, she would have gratefully accepted it.

Thanks for your thoughts JS. My point is that how easy would it be in the future to influence people to take the VAD step. You would have heard of young people in the Netherlands, perfectly healthy but suffering severe depression wanting to take this route. BTW I went down the tunnel with the light at the end for recent cancer surgery. I’m glad I’m alive. Anyway, back to sparring in the next opinion piece. You up for it?

While I acknowledge your point, I don’t agree that is the logical path it will go.

Nevertheless, definitely up for the next joust 🙂

A word today the wise: the emperor (i.e. the progressive movement) isn’t wearing any clothes

@Vasily M
Nice metaphorical reference but the more relevant fairy tale outcome is: “hey, Chicken Little, the sky ISN’T falling.”

Wow. Funny how people like to control what other people do for themselves!

If someone is suffering so badly that they want to end their life in a civilised way, then who is anyone else to say they can’t. IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN IT – THEN DON’T USE IT! Pretty simply really. It is not mandatory – it is a choice available to people. I understand people having objection to VAD on a religious or whatever moral radar basis they use, but that guides whether that individual uses VAD – that doesn’t give them the right to tell others what to do. Stay in your own lane.

Well done ACT Government.

So sucicide is okay so long as it is approved by the government?

@Oscar Mike
It’s disingenuous of you to associate suicide with VAD as if the two are comparable.

By all means feel free to oppose, and by that I mean for you personally to choose never to access, VAD. However, to conflate a conscious supported decision by an individual to seek assistance to end their suffering, with a situation where a person has sunk so low into despair that the only solution they see is to take their own life, is a bridge too far when it comes to imposing your dogma on others.

What a load o rubbish, JS. The only person beng disingenuous here is you. It’s suicide no matter what BS you spin. Up until recently it was even called “Assisted Suicide”.

Yes. Why should someone suffering motor neurone disease be made to endure it until they lose all of the abilities to eat, speak, move, and, lastly, breathe?

@Ken M
Keep up … it’s no longer called “Assisted Suicide” because assisting someone to commit suicide is illegal in every jurisdiction in Australia (https://www.gotocourt.com.au/suicide-law-australia/) whereas, from yesterday, VAD is now legal in every jurisdiction.

Also, the name needed to be changed, to prevent opponents of VAD from drawing ridiculous parrallels between a tragedy and a positive outcome, as has happened above, purely to impose their views on others.

Probably not the best example, because, you know, Stephen Hawking and all.

Great example, despite the noise – as there’s a “V” for voluntary in VAD, therefore people with MND, like Stephen Hawking, can choose not to avail themselves of it, and others who wish to do so, can.

JS, changing the name does not change what it is. It’s suicide. Pretending othetwise is cowardly and shows us you have a problem with it, but your little “progressive” larp won’t let you admit it. I’d think you were less ridiculous if you went the other way and said “Yay for voluntary murder!”.

This old ‘suicide’ distraction chestnut.

Of course there’s no mention of who this legislation is intended to help: people who are suffering an illness that is likely to be terminal, whose quality of life will likely be low. People in this situation will now have additional choices about how the end of their life will play out.

Now if there are amendments that mean you can access VAD for as much as a paper cut, get back to me because at that point you might actually have a point to make.

Just look at Canada for examples of “That hip surgery will be expensive, old timer. Have you considered assisted suicide?”.

I don’t believe most people have an issue with it if it is limited to terminal illnesses that will result in a painful passing. The problem is that the slope is already getting slippery with the soon to come amendment to include people with dementia. We know it won’t stop there.

@Ken M
LMAO Your histrionics would be amusing if it were not such ignorant drivel.

I did not change the name. The term “assisted suicide” simply does not exist in any Australian jurisdiction, except, as I mentioned, in the legislation declaring it to be illegal.

You can attempt to call it what you like, but the enacted legislation doesn’t support you:
– Vic = the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017
– WA = the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019
– Tas = the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Act 2021
– SA = the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021
– Qld = the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021
– NSW = the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2022
and of course, most recently
– ACT = the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2023
Feel free to delve into these pieces of legislation but you won’t find VAD described as suicide in any of them. In fact the WA, Tas, SA, Qld, NSW and ACT legislation explicitly states that a person who dies as a result of the administration of a prescribed substance in accordance with the jurisdictions’s legislation does not die by suicide.

So go ahead and try to demonise this victory, for a majority of ACT residents, but it amounts to nought.

All statements in support of this evil are made without the ability to make a defacto objective statement about the meaning of life, why VAD satisfies that meaning and why religious people are wrong.

I am 100% certain supporters of VAD don’t know even what this means – and don’t care – thanks as always to the intellectual dishonesty they allow themselves, thanks to the truth of things being the least of their concerns

@Vasliy M
Your first paragraph is opinionated waffle and once I got to “I am 100% certain …” I realised there was nothing of relevance coming from you.

The beauty of democracy, is that most of the time, the will of the majority is followed as has happened in this case.

You are in the minority, but guess what? It’s voluntary, you do not have to access it.

@Vasily M: can you please give me an example of a ‘defacto objective statement about the meaning of life’? I would have thought all statements about the meaning of life were subjective, but perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

Good afternoon, Vasily M.

A raven popped in from outsmarting a nearby toddler to ask whether you would kindly explain the meaning of life to them? Apparently there are a few other species similarly interested. Unfortunately the Australopithecines karked it before you could enlighten them.

Dear Vasily as a Registered Nurse I know what exactly this legislation is for! If you have ever stood at the end of a bed and watched as someone had a slow painful death you would understand as well. It’s a shame you don’t seem to have compassion for the terminal patients, you should hang your head in shame at your lack of understanding

Cue to all the gullible religious people to complain but disguise the complaint up as a genuine concern for vulnerable people.

GrumpyGrandpa4:30 pm 05 Jun 24

I can see there may be circumstances where this legislation is appropriate, however, I have concerns…..

Good work all involved. A long road on a challenging subject.

Congratulations to Labor, and the Greens, for getting VAD finally legislated in the ACT.
After having a number of family members, and friends, die a slow painful death, I fully support the right to die without unimaginable pain. When my time comes, I will certainly choose VAD for myself.

If it remains an option for people with untreatable terminal illness, that’s a good outcome.

Unfortuntely, the flood of “Well people with restless eye syndrome should be eligible!” idiots will make a mockery of it and justify the opposition to it.

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