Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Three ways Queensland’s assisted dying bill goes too far

  • 15 September 2021
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