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ACT Govt tables assisted dying Bill

Go Gentle Australia welcomes the ACT Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, which has been introduced to parliament.

If passed, the Bill will give eligible terminally ill people in the ACT the choice to seek medical assistance to choose the timing and circumstances of their death, and avoid needless suffering at the end of life.

A Canberra resident would be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying (VAD) if they are:

  • aged over 18
  • seeking VAD without coercion and with decision-making capability
  • intolerably suffering an advanced, progressive condition expected to cause death
  • local to the ACT for at least 12 months or with a significant Canberra connection.

The ACT draft law differs from other states in having no time frame for life expectancy and allowing nurse practitioners to be one of two health professionals to carry out eligibility assessments.

"It feels momentous. It's historic and I think it's a proud day for Canberra and to show those naysayers that we have developed a very considered, evidence-based bill and we are a mature government with a mature parliament that is ready to debate these issues," ACT Human Righs Minister Tara Cheyne told the Canberra Times.

Ms Cheyne said the Bill will be sent to a committee of inquiry to allow for public feedback and submissions. If passed, ACT residents could have access to VAD by the end of 2025, after an 18-month implementation period.

Dr Linda Swan, Go Gentle Australia’s CEO, said: “This is about giving eligible terminally ill people in the ACT the choice to end their suffering on their terms. It is a safe and compassionate draft law with rigorous safeguards, and it brings the ACT in line with the rest of Australia.”

Dr Swan said the tabling of the Bill was a significant milestone for ACT residents.

“It is only 11 months since the federal government restored the ACT’s right to make its own decisions about VAD. We commend the government for moving quickly to draft a bill that allows this debate to happen.”

The Bill draws strongly on VAD laws in other Australian jurisdictions. It adopts an evidence-based approach and has benefitted from broad consultation with the public and the medical community.

“The ACT government’s consultation is to be commended. It asked the community for its input and it listened. Crucially, it listened to the concerns of dying people, their families and carers,” Dr Swan said.

“The ACT government also sought input from a clinical reference group comprising experts from the fields of end-of-life and palliative care about what will work in the ACT. Go Gentle supports this careful and consultative process,” Dr Swan said.

A balance between safeguards and access

Dr Swan said the Bill struck the right balance between the number of safeguards and ensuring eligible people faced as few barriers as possible to access the law.

“We particularly welcome provisions in the Bill that clearly spell out institutions’ obligations to the people in their care regarding access to VAD.

“The inclusion of penalties for institutions that fail to comply with the law is an important step forward. The Bill recognises that ideology should never be allowed to trump a dying person’s needs.”

The ACT government’s decision not to include a timeframe to death as part of the eligibility criteria reflected available evidence and feedback from dying people and their families, as well as healthcare professionals working in end-of-life care.

“There was strong agreement from healthcare professionals at the inaugural Voluntary Assisted Dying Conference in Sydney that arbitrary timeframes are not a safeguard but a barrier to access for otherwise eligible people,” Dr Swan said.

A debate based on facts

The future of the Bill is now in the hands of ACT politicians, who would have a rare conscience vote – the first in two decades in the ACT.

Andrew Denton, founding director of Go Gentle, urged Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to set aside personal ideology in the upcoming debate and rely on the evidence from across Australia, where VAD laws have been operating for more than four years.

“This evidence shows that VAD is operating safely and as intended, and that it has made a significant difference to the final months, weeks and days of those who have chosen it. This should give MLAs the reassurance they need to give dying people in the ACT the same choice at the end of life as other Australians,” Mr Denton said.

Media contact: Steve Offner, Communications Director, 0426 283 865 [email protected]

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