ACT VAD legislation passes

ACT VAD legislation passes

On 5 June 2024 the ACT Legislative Assembly passed the ACT Voluntary Assisted Dying bill. The vote was 20 in favour, 5 against.

All Labor and Greens members voted in favour of the bill, along with Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, deputy opposition leader Leanne Castley and Liberal members Nicole Lawder and Mark Parton.

Liberal members Ed Cocks, Jeremy Hanson, Elizabeth Kikkert, James Milligan and Peter Cain all voted against the legislation.

A huge vote of thanks is owed to MLA Tara Cheyne for her untiring stewardship of the process.

The VAD scheme will commence after 18 months, on 3 November 2025.

To be eligible for VAD, a person must:

  • have a medical condition expected to cause death, though no time frame is required
  • must be suffering intolerably from the condition (but not if solely from disability or mental illness)
  • must have decision-making capacity
  • must be resident in ACT or have an exemption
  • must have declining quality of life, with treatments not helpful, and be approaching end of life

Labor MLA Dr Marisa Paterson had canvassed the idea of allowing for an Enduring Power of Attorney to specify a VAD Attorney, so that if a person lost decision-making capacity, the VAD Attorney could make the decision about VAD. However this would only have applied if the person was already approved for VAD before losing decision-making capacity.

Dr Paterson has called on the ACT government to address the issue of loss of capacity and create a model for the territory. “There is a gap in all Australian VAD legislation to date when an individual has gone through all the requests and approval stages to access VAD, and then they lose capacity,” she said. “What has been really clear through this process over the last couple of weeks, is that the ACT is ready to explore how to address this issue”.

It’s understood that The ACT government will explore whether a suitable model can be determined and will deliver a report mid next year.

The larger issue is how to provide a mechanism that allows someone who is healthy to make an advance directive specifying their wish to have VAD if they lose decision-making capacity. Former Australian Chief Scientist and Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professor Ian Chubb, has put it in these terms: “End-of-life plans should not be only about what carers are not allowed to do (resuscitate, feed etc) but should also include what a patient wants them to do. End-of-life plans should be permitted to include instructions to carers while individuals are cognitively able to articulate their wishes consistent with the principles of free, prior, and informed consent.

DWDACT will continue to work with government and community to address the issue of loss of capacity.

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