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Why did a committed VAD opponent change her mind?

Liberal senator Jane Hume has been a committed opponent to voluntary assisted dying (VAD). However, when voting on whether to restore to the NT and ACT the right to legislate on VAD in 2022, she spoke in support. Why did she change her mind, and what does it say about the operation of Australia's VAD laws?

The context

Liberal senator Jane Hume, elected as one of Victoria's twelve Senators in 2016, has historically been a vocal opponent of voluntary assisted dying.

In 2018, when the question of whether the Northern Territory and the ACT should have the right to legislate for VAD last came before the Senate, Senator Hume voted no. She cited serious concerns about whether VAD laws could ever operate safely:

I will consider any proposal to legislate for the right of a person to end their life provided that there are adequate safeguards in place to protect them from being guilted into doing so. I'm not confident that the bill today offers those safeguards.

At that time, Victoria had already passed a VAD law - although it was not yet in operation - and WA's Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices was underway. Yet Senator Hume was not convinced by the emerging Australian model.

What changed Senator Hume's mind?

In a moving speech, Senator Hume attributed her change of heart to her father's experience with VAD in Victoria following his cancer diagnosis. Going through this process with her father reassured her that the safeguards were robust.

Senator Hume bravely and honestly explained her newfound support for the Australian VAD legislation:

It was the issue of safeguards that caused me the most hesitation back then—the theory that someone vulnerable may be 'guilted' into deciding to end their life. 'No legislation can legislate against guilt,' I said back then.

Well, two years later, in March 2020, I was to learn that, in practice, voluntary assisted dying legislation in my home state of Victoria had so many safeguards in place that it was almost insurmountable to navigate, and that was even for its most qualified and most determined participant: my father, Steve.

... We say in this place that when we make a decision, we will walk a mile in another man's shoes. Well, I have certainly done that. Having experienced it, having lived it, having held the hand of a person that I deeply loved as he died peacefully, as he died painlessly, as he died willingly and in the manner in which he wanted, the manner in which he had always wanted, and at the time of his choosing, I now feel very, very differently. It was truly a beautiful death.

To those Australians who live in the territories, rather than in any other part of the country that's represented in this chamber, I say to you: who am I to deny you the choice to leave this Earth in the same beautiful way as did my father, Steve?

To read Senator Hume's speech in full, click here.

What does this say about Australia's VAD laws?

Senator Hume's support for VAD legislation shows that when confronted with the reality of VAD, rather than disinformation, it is clear that the systems are carefully safeguarded, and those safeguards are stringently followed.

VAD is no easy undertaking - nor should it be. It is crucial to its proper operation that the law is only accessible to eligible people, free from coercion. However, as parts of Senator Hume's speech suggest, the safeguards should not be so onerous that even eligible, determined people finds those safeguards 'almost insurmountable'.

Access to Victoria's VAD scheme is discussed in detail in the VAD Review Board's latest report, which we have summarised here.

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