Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Three ways Queensland’s assisted dying bill goes too far



The Queensland parliament, like the Victorian parliament four years ago, is committed to legislating for voluntary assisted dying. The bill being considered by the one-chamber Queensland parliament this week basically follows the contours of the Victorian legislation. But there are three major developments proposed that are very worrying in this new field of social experimentation.

First, under Victorian law a registered health practitioner is not allowed to initiate discussion about VAD with a patient or resident to whom they are providing health or professional care ser­vices. If they do, they are guilty of unprofessional conduct within the meaning and for the purposes of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. Of course, they can provide all necessary information and opinions once the patient or resident initiates the conversation.

Under the Queensland bill the health practitioner is allowed to initiate the discussion. They can even make an unsolicited suggestion of VAD provided they tell the patient about other options, including palliative care. The last thing ageing, sick people need is a caste of evangelising health practitioners prompting them to consider VAD. The Victorian law precludes that; the Queensland bill encourages it. 

Second, under Victorian law a doctor is able to buy out of all aspects of VAD by informing their patients they have a conscientious objection to being involved in VAD. In 2008 when legislating on abortion, the Victorian parliament conceded a doctor might have conscientious objections, particularly to late-term abortions. But the parliament insisted the doctor with conscientious objections refer the patient to another doctor prepared to perform the abortion. The rationale was the patient might be stranded in an emergency situation otherwise.

When it came to legislating for VAD, the Victorian parliament saw no need to insist the conscientiously objecting health practitioner provide a referral. There would be other ways to provide the patient or nursing home resident with the time and opportunity to engage someone to assist with VAD. The Victorian parliament acknowledged the doctor with conscientious objections to VAD, perhaps even viewing it as assisted suicide, should be left in peace, not having to provide a referral.

The Queensland parliament is proposing that the provider who views VAD as morally unacceptable must provide the patient with information about another provider ‘who, in the practitioner’s belief, is likely to be able to assist the person with the person’s request’. This extra clause not found in the Victorian law risks trampling unnecessarily on a health provider’s conscience.


'The three novel suggestions in the Queensland bill will upset some nursing home residents who would prefer to be left in peace, violate the consciences of some of Queensland’s finest health practitioners, and interfere with the smooth operation of some of Queensland’s finest hospitals and aged-care facilities.'


Meanwhile, unlike the Victorian law, the Queensland bill specifically states ‘a person’s freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief and enjoyment of their culture should be respected’. Give us a break.

Third, under Victorian law and practice, hospitals and nursing homes can maintain their principled objections to VAD, giving notice to all patients and residents that VAD services are not provided on their campuses, whether for religious or other reasons. The Queensland bill provides access for consulting VAD practitioners to facilities that do not provide VAD. It provides that all and any steps in the VAD process can take place on these facilities, and it allows the consulting and/or co-ordinating VAD practitioner, and not the facilities’ admitting clinicians, to decide whether transfer of the patient will occur.

There have been no reported problems in Victoria where Catholic Health and Aged Care Ser­vices has made it clear from day one: ‘Our staff have always had open discussions with patients, residents and families about their treatment and care at the end of life. That will not change. Each of our services has a system in place that will respond respectfully and compassionately to any questions about VAD. This includes co-ordinating transfer of care to other providers if a patient/resident wishes to seek VAD. We will not impede access to the provision of VAD elsewhere.’

The three novel suggestions in the Queensland bill will upset some nursing home residents who would prefer to be left in peace, violate the consciences of some of Queensland’s finest health practitioners, and interfere with the smooth operation of some of Queensland’s finest hospitals and aged-care facilities. If any of these suggestions are to be adopted, Queenslanders should be told first what is the specific Victorian problem that each proposal is designed to solve.

This article originally appeared in The Australian


Frank BrennanFr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, the Distinguished Fellow of the P M Glynn Institute, Australian Catholic University, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). He is a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.

Main image: Senior woman holding hands with a nurse. (Shapecharge/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Queensland, Assisted dying, VAD, euthanasia



submit a comment

Existing comments

VAD is written about, debated in State Parliaments and is subject to strong opinions on both sides. I would like to see much more discussion about improving the quality of palliative care and about informing people (the person, relatives of the person and close friends) in end of life situations about the processes involved in palliative care and the decisions that can be made. I'm not sure why such a sensitive topic is the subject of so much debate. I agree that religious-based providers of health care should not be subject to laws which infringe freedom of conscience. People want to die with dignity and high quality palliative care can provide that reassurance.

Pam | 16 September 2021  
Show Responses

Yes Pam, people want to 'die with dignity' and palliative care may be the answer for some, but what about those for whom it is not? As for the 'freedom of conscience' for 'religious-based' but substantially government funded health care providers, there is a fine line between acknowledging that freedom of conscience of one party and denying information and access to the other party.

Ginger Meggs | 17 September 2021  

‘may be the answer for some, but what about those for whom it is not?’ Good job raising a question that Christians who believe in interpreting Scripture according to their own ‘conscience’ can’t answer. The ‘Value-neutral’ State is as much a confessional state as the Confessional State because there is no logical space in which there is no value. 2+2 is 4 only if you choose to use a base 10 numbering system. If our brains had evolved differently biologically or culturally, we’d be using a different system to count. It’s not as if housewives couldn’t juggle farthings and halfpennies, and other types of coins, in their heads. The desire of the Great Commission is for a state which, if it is not de jure confessional, is de facto confessional because for the population, their operating principle is Joshua 24:15. The enemy of the Great Commission is the Christian who treats Scripture as a toy. Islam, pantheism, and euthanasia-lovin’ atheism are all far down the track. None of those would be an issue if the Christian community were like Joshua and his house.

roy chen yee | 18 September 2021  

Thanks for your reply, Ginger. You may think I'm avoiding discussing your concerns by sending you the following however I am familiar with your thoughtfulness and seriousness. From James Bradley's "The Turtle's Graveyard" about a drowning at sea: "On the horizon I think I see a light, the fading dark before the dawn. Maybe a boat will come, maybe not, but either way it will be too late. Am I sky? Or am I water? I no longer know. Maybe this is how the turtles feel it, the coming of their time. Maybe they too feel it like a waking, like breathing. Like flight."

Pam | 18 September 2021  

Thanks Pam, I'll going looking for that story. I've identified couple of anthologies that have it but I'd like to get a ebook version if possible for ease of reading. :-)

Ginger Meggs | 20 September 2021  

FIne words Fr Frank - sadly too late now...

Rob McCahill | 16 September 2021  

And not inserting these three points into the Qld legislation would have left more people in insufferable agony in their last dying days - I would have thought that is the obvious problem the insertions were designed to solve.

People dying in agony are going to be upset if their doctor raises the option of a quick and peaceful death? I'm sorry, their peace has long been shattered by their slow death. This objection can only come from an armchair ethicist far removed from the bedside of these poor souls.

The second and third points lack compassion by privileging the comfort of the health professional or organisation over the comfort of the dying patient. This is particularly arrogant, given that the faith-based organisations are essentially government contractors, relying in large part on government funding.

Conservative Christians really need to take a closer look at the priority Jesus put on compassion over against the Law throughout His ministry. Luke 10:25-37 spells it out pretty clearly, I would have thought.

Peter Schulz | 16 September 2021  
Show Responses

‘Luke 10:25-37 spells it out pretty clearly.’ Only if the man had begged to be put out of his pain and the Samaritan had obliged.

roy chen yee | 18 September 2021  

I had a good interview with Steve Austin on ABC Radio Drive in Brisbane today about the passage of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill without any amendment. Listen at https://soundcloud.com/frank-brennan-6/queensland-vad-bill

Frank Brennan SJ | 16 September 2021  
Show Responses

Also available at https://www.abc.net.au/radio/brisbane/programs/drive/vad/13546674

Frank Brennan SJ | 17 September 2021  

How about a response to Peter's post, Frank?

Ginger Meggs | 18 September 2021  

How can Govt judge and take accountability for which humans cannot coexist in society. It’s unconstitutional. Whose mere presence is perceived as a threat?

Patients suffering from partner separation distress, anxiety compulsive behaviours, fear & wariness of humans, stress & mental health issues etc should not be automatically targeted for euthanasia.

How does this law determine mental health/emotional maturity/actual competence and temperament of an adult professional (eg. doctor)? Different professionals perceive the same triggers and rigorous assessments differently. I can only think of my father who passed away due to medical negligence and the system. No stringent criteria.

Are Govt going to be accountable for this proposed new feature of a flawed system? If so, criminal penalties need to be applied to the Minister for Health in any proposed laws.

How do they prevent doctors or new ‘rackets’ partaking in convenience euthanasia for money? If the purpose is money, better procedures/treatments are more expensive. Environment & experience determine behaviour. Families would be more open to rehoming with a good quality of life free from neglect & abandonment __Why not, new ‘rehomes’ for these very persons coexisting with others like them? Govt funded? Persons should not be vilified or financially penalised. Create Framework & laws for rehoming. How does Govt prevent families opting for convenience euthanasia for easy access to the victim(who can’t fight off threats) assets/will? Why not use person partial assets towards this spacious sanctuary if they can afford it_it make better business sense money wise if that’s what Govt want and it puts welfare and safety of the patient first. Real people have real problems and real problems need real solutions, not euthanasia!

Jackie | 17 September 2021  

Frank, when a backwater state like Queensland has a Human Rights Act it needs to wave it around and try to give it a profile. The "break" you need will come when people don't have to look it up every time to see what it says and a person's rights are "understood" and respected. It'll come with practice, but for now you'll have to live (or die) with the touchy-feely cross references.

ray | 17 September 2021  

Peter Schultz (et tu, Pam). While your compassion is obvious and admirable, palliative care in this country is very effective and "dying in insufferable agony" is not the norm and very rare indeed.

john frawley | 17 September 2021  

Thank you, who are both a priest and a lawyer, for this sensible, informed piece, Frank. Obviously, VAD or euthanasia, is and will continue to be a highly contentious and emotive issue. Peter Schulz could be speaking from the floor of our parliament in Brisbane. What he says mirrors what many politicians said. Many spoke with great grief of the pain and suffering their loved ones underwent. They should not be belittled nor derided. I hold a different view. I would not classify myself as 'a conservative Christian', indeed I have such a problem with many who classify themselves as 'Christian' that I put myself down as 'Other' with an explanation in the recent Census. I wish, like so many Jews and Hindus can re their religions, I was able to classify myself as 'Christian' culturally. Richard Holloway I think feels like this and yet, judging from his autobiography and other writing, his gentle, compassionate faith works. Hindus, to me, with the sort of houses in places like Varanasi (Benares) where those about to die can wait peacefully with their families seem to have a good handle on things. Death is inevitable. We need to see it as natural. We often don't and turn it into a bogeyperson. How sad, how very, very sad.

Edward Fido | 17 September 2021  

VAD legislation vote was available only to members of parliament. That number clearly shows that just 89 people from the total Qld population were given the voting rights that should been given to ALL residents who are enrolled in Queensland when the legislation is heavily emotional and controversial, likely to affect many at some time. MPs were merely representing their personal views and, without meaningful consultation within the electorates, the deciding vote is a hollow victory.
Health care is necessary but becoming harder to obtain
Early death care is not.

Brian Fordham | 17 September 2021  

Frank Brennan the points you make are all true but the parliamentary horse has bolted. The VAD law comes into force until January 1st 2023. Qld is the 5th State to pass this law. The vote was not cast on party lines:
A total of 61 of Qlds 93 MPs, - 10 LNP, 2 Greens MPs and 1 independent SB, cast their vote to pass the laws unamended after it had been discussed for 12 months. 30 who voted against the bill included 3 Labor MPs.
So it was a conscience vote.
John Fawley makes a good point. The RACP also took pains to point out that Palliative care was preferable to VAD.
Qld will have to amend the criminal code:
Aiding suicide
311 Aiding suicide
Any person who—

(a) procures another to kill himself or herself; or
(b) counsels another to kill himself or herself and thereby induces the other person to do so; or
(c) aids another in killing himself or herself;
is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for life.
How times have changed.

Francis Armstrong | 18 September 2021  

Father Brennan's interview an article raises disturbing points regarding this debate, and church run institutions, hospitals, aged people homes, must be feeling uncomfortable about these amendments to the Bill. The State is seeking to be the arbitrator of how live is to be lived and terminated.

Julia Caroline Ross | 19 September 2021  
Show Responses

Who then should be 'the arbitrator of how life is to be lived and terminated' Julia? The professions ? The health sector ? The Church ? Every one for her or him self ? And in what way is this legislation making the 'State' and 'arbitrator'?

Ginger Meggs | 21 September 2021  

Good morning Ginger M. You ask who should be the arbitrator of life and, more particularly, death. The answer is simple - GOD.

john frawley | 23 September 2021  
Show Responses

So how John,can we ever justify going to war?

Ginger Meggs | 25 October 2021  

Strongly, finely worded, Frank. Thanks

Bryan Dunn | 24 September 2021  

Similar Articles

A disarming day

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 23 September 2021

Unlike December 25, September 26 is a World Day that passes by in silence. It calls for the Elimination of all Nuclear Weapons. Nuclear power is too mysterious to understand, too horrific to dwell on, and too far away to take responsibility for. It and its destructive power are unthinkable. And yet it continues to press on us, most recently in the announcement that Australia will build nuclear-powered submarines.


The Mercy Sisters of the Pilbara

  • Paul Cleary
  • 21 September 2021

In the late 1970s, two Mercy sisters answered a call to work with Aboriginal people, and they chose a place in the Pilbara region of Western Australia that had a notorious reputation. Sisters Bernadette Kennedy and Bernadine Daly arrived in the largely Aboriginal town of Roebourne in Australia’s north-west in mid-1978 to see if they were needed. They quickly discovered that in a town ‘awash with alcohol’ there was great need.