Terminally ill Queenslanders will be able to end their lives at a time of their choosing from early next year after the state parliament voted to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was on Thursday passed by 61 of the state’s 93 MPs in a rare conscience vote in Queensland’s single legislative chamber.
It was met by applause in the public gallery after a marathon debate that took much of the parliamentary week.
The laws allow people suffering a disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and terminal to access voluntary-assisted dying (VAD).
Their condition must be expected to cause death within a year, they must have decision-making capacity, and proceed without coercion.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles says the law won’t make terminally ill Queenslanders’ deaths any less tragic, but it will ease their pain and suffering.
“It has been a very considered debate and, as many members on both sides of the house have said, it’s been a very difficult debate,” he told parliament on Thursday.
Thirty MPs voted against the bill, with some objectors concerned a funding shortfall in palliative care could put pressure on patients to end their lives.
“Will this government provide a guarantee that people will get access to quality integrated palliative care services wherever they live in Queensland, when they have a terminal diagnosis, and not just in the last few months of life,” Liberal National Party MP Fiona Simpson said.
But Miles said palliative care and voluntary assisted dying were actually complementary policies, which gave more options to terminally ill people.
“Members do not have to choose between palliative care and voluntary assisted dying, they are not competitive,” he told parliament.
“They, in fact, can and do operate, side by side, and by continuing to harp on as though it is a choice, you’re attempting to demand members make a false choice. And it is indeed a false argument.”
Parliament did not pass any of Deputy Opposition Leader David Janetzki’s 54 proposed amendments, which he said would improve safeguards for conscientious objectors and reporting processes.
Conscientious objection by faith-based organisations, and the 12 month time frame for end of life as a requirement for access, caused much debate during the bill’s final stages.
Miles justified the one year clause, as opposed to something shorter, by stating it was the point at which patients could begin the process.
“In practice … six months for some people does not allow them enough time to go through the rigorous multi-step request and assessment process, while maintaining the level of decision making capability required,” he said.
Institutional conscientious objection proved especially difficult for several MPs.
The laws allow the scheme to be accessed in healthcare facilities through outside doctors, regardless of whether the organisations that run them object.
Member for Toowoomba North Trevor Watts said private hospitals within his electorate had expressed “great concern” about the measure.
“It is unusual for a hospital to be told who it will allow onto its premises and who it will allow to operate under its insurance,” he said.
Many people don’t have an option as to which facility they are placed in, particularly in the case of aged care, Miles said.
“In many circumstances, the entity they end up in is their home, it’s not just an institution,” he said.
The scheme will be operating from January 2023, meaning Queensland will become the fifth jurisdiction in Australia to legalise euthanasia.
Voluntary-assisted dying is legal in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.
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