Support from National Seniors Australia for action on VAD for the ACT 

From Mike Boesen

The ACT Policy Advisory Group (PAG) of National Seniors Australia’s ACT membership undertook a survey of its ACT members in late 2019 to determine their attitudes towards Voluntary Assisted Dying.  The survey was designed by Dr Bill Donovan who is Chair of the ACT PAG and I acted as Technical Consultant.  The survey determined that the large majority of ACT respondents were very supportive of having VAD provisions in the ACT and of a type that is much more inclusive than the restrictive Victorian and WA models.

The background leading up to the conduct of the survey is provided here:  mboesen.net  The full Report can be downloaded here.  A short version can be read here.

In the light of the findings of the survey, in 2020 the ACT PAG developed a Policy for VAD that was endorsed by the ACT membership of National Seniors Australia.  A copy of that Policy can be read and downloaded from here.     That policy supports provisions for VAD that meet the needs of three types of people:

  1. (a)  those who are in extremis – having a terminal illness and only a short time left to live; and
  2. (b)  those who are not terminally ill or do not have a short time to live, but who have an intolerable serious condition; and
  3. (c)  those of an advanced age who do not have a terminal illness or a serious condition, but whose quality of life is intolerable.

The Policy also proposes that the ACT Government undertakes a comprehensive broadscale survey amongst adults of all ages in the ACT to determine attitudes towards VAD.

The Report and the statement of the ACT National Seniors’ Policy was sent by the Chair of the PAG to the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition Mr Coe, and to all Commonwealth politicians elected to represent the ACT.  The Report was also sent to Ms Tara Cheyne.  The accompanying letters requested that the recipients provide support to the ACT Government in any of its activities that are directed at achieving repeal of the Commonwealth legislation that currently prevents the ACT from implementing its own legislation for assisted dying.  I have been informed that consideration of the Report and the Policy has had to be put into abeyance due to the over-riding needs of management of the Covid-19 situation and preparations for the ACT Assembly elections.

However, there has been a significant outcome at National Seniors Australia:  in email dated 5 October 2020 that was sent to its national membership, the lead item was “ACT election update – what we’re campaigning for”.     https://tinyurl.com/y4dbtq7e .  On that page the following content is noteworthy:

Seniors want better end-of-life care, including new hospices in Tuggeranong and Gungahlin and for parties to pressure the federal government to give the ACT government the power to rule on assisted dying.

Also included on that page is a link to a document entitled “National Seniors Australia ACT Election 2020 Priorities for the over 50s”.  That document can be read here.  It includes a section on “End of Life”, including this statement:

All parties, regardless of whether they form government, should also pressure the federal government to give the ACT the powers to make its own laws on Voluntary Assisted Dying. 

In spite of no progress being made by the ACT Government on the recommendations made by the ACT PAG and the Report on the survey, the conduct to the survey and consideration of Policy for the ACT has had significant consequences.  They are:

  1. The results from the survey can be cited as “unbiased evidence” that there is strong support for VAD amongst senior citizens and for VAD of a type that is much more inclusive than that being implemented in Victoria and WA.  This survey amongst Seniors in general may well be given more credence amongst politicians than would a survey restricted to folk who are members of DWD or EXIT.
  2. The survey supports the proposition that a comprehensive, broad scale survey on attitudes towards VAD should be undertaken in the ACT.
  3. As a consequence of Dr Donovan’s support and that of members of the ACT PAG, it has led to the involvement and support from an influential organisation of senior citizens – National Seniors Australia – at both the ACT and national levels.
  4. The survey results and the Policy developed by National Seniors supports the proposition that the constraining Commonwealth legislation preventing the ACT from implementing provisions for VAD is inappropriate and unjust because it denies rights to ACT citizens that citizens in the States have.
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