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Voluntary Assisted Dying in Queensland: Compassion is coming for terminally ill patients

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Recently the Queensland Government passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, which is a topic that ignites emotion no matter which side of the debate you sit on. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills & Estate Senior Associate, Debbie Sage, discusses Voluntary Assisted Dying and what this means for Queenslanders suffering from a terminal illness with Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB.

Introduction

The issue of voluntary assisted dying was first raised in November 2018 when the Queensland legislative assembly referred an inquiry into aged care, end of life, palliative care, and voluntary assisted dying to a parliamentary committee.

Voluntary assisted dying has been the subject of two inquiries and dozens of hearings across Queensland.

With regards to how Queensland compares to other states and territories throughout Australia, there are five of the six states in Australia which have now passed voluntary assisted dying laws.

However, the only states that currently have the laws in operation however are Victoria and Western Australia.

The laws will commence in Tasmania in October 2022, South Australia in late 2022-early 2023, and Queensland in January 2023.

A political promise: Annastacia Palaszczuk vowed to introduce voluntary assisted dying legislation if she was re-elected in October 2020

Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk made her campaign promise putting the bill before parliament and she has now delivered on that.

Queensland is the 5th State to legalise voluntary assisted dying, and even that process undertook a 3-day debate in parliament. 61 politicians voted in favour of the legislation, and 30 voting against it.

Many Queenslanders have been fighting for this scheme for quite some time.

There is no doubt this is a contentious area of law and one that will always engage plenty of debate. But if Queenslanders respond the same way as Victorians did when the scheme was introduced, hopefully it can bring peace and compassion to those who are suffering and dying.

How will the Voluntary Assisted Dying Scheme work in Queensland?

There are a number of steps that need to be taken once this scheme becomes available to those who are eligible for it. There will be a strict process someone will need to follow if they wish to request for voluntary assisted dying.

If a person is suffering, dying, and meets the eligibility criteria, they must then make three separate requests, and these must be documented properly.

The requests must be made by:

First Request:

  • Making a first initial request to a medical practitioner which is clear and unambiguous and made by the individual, not by someone else on their behalf.
  • The doctor can either accept or refuse the request and provide the individual with further information. If the doctor agrees, they become the coordinating practitioner.
  • Step two involves the first assessment of the individual. An approved doctor who has completed training in Voluntary Assisted Dying will assess the person and determine if they are eligible.

Second Request:

  • If the doctor deems the individual as eligible and confirms that the individual fully understands the information they have been provided with, the individual is then referred to a second medical practitioner for an individual assessment.
  • Once the second medical practitioner’s assessment has been satisfied, the individual must then make a second request for Voluntary Assisted Dying in writing and sign the request in the presence of two eligible witnesses.

Third Request:

  • For the application to move forward, a third and final request is then made by the individual to the coordinating practitioner.
  • There must be at least nine days between the first and last requests being made for them to be valid unless an exemption applies.

It is important to note that anyone appointed as an Enduring Power of Attorney cannot make a request for Voluntary Assisted Dying on behalf of someone else. Voluntary Assisted Dying can only be requested personally by someone who is able to communicate their wishes and has decision-making capacity and can demonstrate that they fully understand the process.

What happens after someone has made their “three requests” for Voluntary Assisted Dying?

Once the coordinating practitioner receives the final request, they must complete a review of all the stages and certify that the individual has decision-making capacity and is acting voluntarily without coercion. This is a really important step.

A copy of the review must be provided within 48 hours to a Voluntary Assisted Dying oversight board.

Once the process has been fulfilled and all the criteria met, the individual can choose whether they wish to self-administer a substance, or for it to be administered by the administering practitioner to end their life.

What happens if you change your mind?

An individual can change their mind at any time and choose not to proceed with Voluntary Assisted Dying. They will be told this fact multiple times throughout the process so that they fully understand that they can choose to discontinue their request at any time.

This is a requirement in the upcoming legislation as part of the scheme that the individual is reminded a certain number of times of the fact that they can make this choice.

This is a very important part of the scheme. 

When will the laws take effect?

There are several tasks that need to be completed before the Voluntary Assisted Dying Scheme will be available to Queenslanders. From training to implementing new regulatory bodies and implementing the oversight board, and developing systems to support the scheme, it will be an extremely involved process that requires some time to put it all together properly.

Currently it is expected that Voluntary Assisted Dying will come into effect on January 1, 2023 for Queenslanders.

Who will be eligible to make such a request?

Eligibility for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Scheme has five conditions, including:

  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must have decision-making capacity and have the ability to understand the nature and effect of the decision
  • You must act voluntarily and without coercion
  • You must be diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive, and causing intolerable suffering with a life expectancy of less than 12 months.
  • You must fulfil the resident requirements or be approved for an exemption.

If a doctor doesn’t want to play a role in the scheme, can doctors refuse to take part?

Yes! Doctors are able to object to being part of the Voluntary Assisted Dying scheme.

If a doctor has a patient that requests for voluntary assisted dying and they do not want to take part, they must provide details to their patient of an official Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigator Service who can assist them with their request.

Doctors must also let their patient know that there are other providers that can help them and not discourage them from doing so simply because they do not wish to take part in the scheme.

For doctors that do wish to take part in the scheme, they must complete approved training.

Faith-based aged care facilities

If faith-based aged care facilities do not want to take part in the scheme, their preference will not restrict their residents from making a request for voluntary assisted dying if they are eligible to do so.

Faith-based aged care facilities, just like doctors, can refuse to participate in the Voluntary Assisted Dying Scheme. However, they cannot prevent their residents from exploring this as an option if that is what their residents wish for. Nor can they refuse access to practitioners who are willing to assist an eligible resident with voluntary assisted dying within their premises.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – Helping you preserve your wishes and plan for the future

Even though the Voluntary Assisted Dying scheme will not be made accessible to Queenslanders for some time, we expect this issue will continue to ignite debate.

Topics such as this one can provide an opportunity to consider what your end-of-life preferences may be if the unexpected does happen, or what compassion you hope is extended to your loved ones who may be suffering from a terminal illness.

This topic can serve as a timely reminder to ensure that your estate planning needs are fulfilled so that you have up-to-date documents that reflect your wishes and intentions.

From drafting a Will to ensure your hard-earned assets are passed on to who you want to benefit from them after you die, to appointing an Enduring Power of Attorney to take care of your needs and make decisions on your behalf if the unexpected happens and you lose capacity to do so yourself, our team have the knowledge and experience to help you identify the most appropriate strategies and documents to put in place to suit your personal needs.

We can also assist with drafting Advance Health Directives, which is the closest you will get to planning your end-of-life care and ensuring your loved ones understand what steps you want to take as you approach the end of your life.

Having these documents completed can not only provide you with peace of mind in knowing your legal affairs are in order but can also provide peace and assurance to your loved ones if they need to step in and fulfil your testamentary intentions.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers is a leading elder law and estate planning law firm. We have one of the largest Wills and Estates departments in Australia and our team are passionate about helping our clients plan for their future.

If you’d like to understand more about estate planning, or any other elder law and aged care matters, contact Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, mobile 0423 772 555 or email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au

You can also make an appointment with our team by using our online booking app. Click here to book now!

Our lawyers are available to make an appointment with at any of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town CentreCoolangattaKingscliff, or Brisbane. As we are currently unable to visit our Sydney or Melbourne offices due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we are still able to offer telephone or video consultations to our NSW and VIC clients during this time.

Read more:

Dying to Know Day – let’s talk about death

Enduring Power of Attorney – one of the most crucial and powerful documents you can create in your lifetime

Estate Planning 101 – what is ‘estate planning’? What you need to do to put a plan in place to protect your estate and your family

Part 1: Transitioning to aged care – it’s important to plan for the future

 

 

 

 

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Debbie Sage - Wills and Estates Senior Associate

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