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AMA NSW urges amendments to Criminal Code Act

NSW doctors join calls to allow the use of telehealth in voluntary assisted dying discussions.

The Australia Medical Association (NSW) has joined calls for the federal government to amend the Criminal Code Act (the Act) to clarify the ambiguity around telehealth and voluntary assisted dying (VAD).

Sections 474.29A and 474.29B of the Act prohibit the use of a carriage service – phone, text, and email - to discuss or send suicide-related materials. Even though most state laws specifically say that VAD is not suicide, these sections mean that doctors are reluctant to use telehealth to discuss some aspects of VAD with their patients for fear of prosecution and a $220,000 fine. 

Dr Michael Bonning, AMA NSW President said, “Telehealth is an accepted part of healthcare delivery. The decision regarding whether telehealth is an appropriate form of consultation is a matter for the treating doctor and patient to discuss. The doctor is subject to the same level of regulation and accountability for that service as would apply in other settings.”

Besides the added complexity for doctors delivering VAD care, this ambiguity in the law leads to increased delays and unnecessary suffering for terminally ill people, particularly those in rural and regional communities.

Professor Liz Reymond, Director of the QVAD Support and Pharmacy Service, says “vulnerable suffering patients from Australian regional, rural, and remote locations who are too sick to travel have to wait, sometimes for weeks, until a face-to-face consultation can be arranged with a VAD Authorised Practitioner”.

Health professionals were hopeful that a decision would be made at last Thursday’s meeting of state and federal attorneys-general, but the Commonwealth is yet to formalise their position.

The issue is due to be discussed again at the next meeting of attorneys-general.

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