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16 Oct 2021 17:10
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  •   Home > News > International

    Applause in Queensland Parliament gallery as historic bill passed, legalising voluntary assisted dying

    Queensland becomes the fifth state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying after state MPs pass the historic bill by an overwhelming majority, 61 votes to 30.

    Queensland will become the fifth state to legalise voluntary assisted dying (VAD) after state Parliament passed a historic bill on Thursday.

    After more than two days of emotionally charged debate, the bill passed with 61 MPs supporting the legislation and 30 voting against it.

    The new laws — which are not set to take effect until January 2023 — will allow people aged 18 and older who are expected to die within 12 months, and who meet strict eligibility criteria, to seek medical assistance to end their lives.

    More than 50 people who watched the historic vote from the public gallery applauded, hugged and shook hands as calls of "hear, hear" rang out at the vote's conclusion.

    It follows more than three decades of lobbying by VAD advocates and a marathon sitting week that saw impassioned debate from MPs over the bill.

    Some MPs described it as one of the most significant issues they had grappled with in their parliamentary careers.

    Over two days of debate, many MPs relayed personal stories, with several Labor members paying tribute to former member for Stretton, Duncan Pegg, who died in June after a battle with cancer.

    All but three Labor MPs voted for the bill, while 10 LNP members voted in favour of it.

    Independent Sandy Bolton and both Greens MPs also supported the legislation.

    All three Katter's Australian Party MPs voted against the bill, and so too did One Nation's Stephen Andrew.

    A 'coming of age' for Queensland

    During her speech in Parliament on Wednesday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there had been a gradual "coming of age" for Queensland over legalising VAD.

    "I do not think that 10 years ago Queensland was ready for these laws," she said.

    The issue was first referred to a parliamentary committee in late 2018 and has been the subject of two inquiries, dozens of hearings across the state, and work by the state's law reform commission.

    To be eligible to access VAD in Queensland, a person must be:

    • At least 18 years old
    • Have an eligible condition that is advanced and progressive, expected to cause death within 12 months, and causing intolerable suffering
    • Have decision-making capacity
    • Be acting voluntarily and without coercion
    • Fulfil a residency requirement

    'Dignity in death'

    Two medical practitioners will have to assess a person's eligibility, with three separate requests required and at least nine days between the first and final requests.

    At any time, a terminally ill patient can decide not to take any further steps with VAD.

    An oversight board will also be created to ensure the law is complied with, completed requests have been reviewed, and any issues are referred to entities such as the commissioner of police, the state coroner or the health ombudsman.

    While health practitioners who have a conscientious objection will have the right to choose not to partake, the legislation does limit the ability of institutions themselves — such as faith-based private hospitals or aged care centres — to object to VAD.

    Queensland is the fifth state in Australia to pass laws to legalise VAD, following Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia.

    The schemes are not yet operating in Tasmania and South Australia.

    MPs were granted a rare conscience vote on the issue and several LNP MPs voted in favour of the legislation.

    Speaking outside Parliament, Ms Palaszczuk said it was a historic moment for Queensland and the legislation was a legacy she was proud of.

    Ms Palaszczuk described the laws as giving Queenslanders "dignity in death".

    "Queenslanders have spoken loud and clear and we've listened," she said.

    "There's absolutely a lot of work to do [until laws come into effect] and of course we've got those guidelines as well to work [with] so it's all hands on deck until it takes effect."

    North Queensland MP Aaron Harper was emotional as he left the chamber and said the decision was the result of years of hard work.

    "We're now going to be able to provide Queenslanders with a hell of a lot less suffering," he said.

    "I'm proud to have played a small role in chairing health committees that travelled right around the state, 45 public hearings … 11,000 people wrote to us.

    "I'm going to call it the people's bill."

    Brisbane mother welcomes new laws

    Susan Reilly said the VAD legislation has been a long time coming.

    The 47-year-old Brisbane mother was forced to watch her own mother die of breast cancer in 2001.

    Her mum was only 54 when she died.

    "It was just horrifying, I just know that it was the absolute last thing that she wanted for my brother, my sister and I," Ms Reilly said.

    "There is no dignity in the way that you die from cancer. It is horrific and her bodily functions, she didn't have any control."

    She said voluntary assisted dying would have helped her mother.

    "It was just heartbreaking from every level — knowing she didn't want to go that way, seeing her having to go through that and even her last few moments, it was just awful."

    "I'm never going to forget that, it's just etched in my brain forever and I just don't want that for my children."

    Ms Reilly closely watched Queensland's VAD debate and believes it is what her mother would have wanted.

    "Had she had the opportunity, I know that she would have definitely have gone forward and decided when it was right for her," she said.

    David Muir, chair of the pro-VAD Clem Jones Trust, said there was a sense of relief over the laws being passed.

    "The terminally ill in Queensland have been campaigning for this for many years," he said.

    "It's tinged with sadness and a sense of relief … sadness by all those campaigners here in Queensland over many years, who've not lived to see this law reform here today."

    Former Northern Territory chief minister Marshall Perron, a VAD law pioneer, said the debate had been ongoing for more than a quarter of a century.

    "Better late than never," he said.

    'Nowhere else in Australia'

    But former Australian Medical Association (AMA) federal president Steve Hambleton has concerns about the Queensland bill, labelling it "the loosest legislation in Australia with some significant medical holes in it".

    He said the AMA was worried doctors still in training to become specialists could be asked to make critical decisions in the process of voluntary assisted dying.

    "We're asking people with as little as five years graduation to make that call," Dr Hambleton told the ABC.

    "It should be five years after you get your specialty, a much more senior doctor and that person should have expertise in your area on your illness, or they should be a palliative care expert."

    He said he was also concerned the legislation was "overriding good clinical governance" and even faith-based hospitals, and that aged care homes will be forced to allow VAD, despite their beliefs.

    "This legislation overrides all of their opinions and says you will provide this within your institution — nowhere else in Australia does that," Dr Hambleton said.

    Meanwhile, the new legislation has been described as "deeply disappointing" by the Chair of Catholic Health Australia, John Watkins.

    He said the organisation had made it clear they did not want to allow voluntary assisted dying in faith-based hospitals or aged care facilities in Queensland.

    "It places us in an invidious and extraordinary position," Mr Watkins said.

    "Being forced to host VAD in our facilities means having our most deeply held beliefs around the dignity of human life trampled upon.

    "Over the coming months we will work with the government on a system that reconciles our beliefs with its laws," he said.

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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