Queensland close to legalising euthanasia

City of Gold Coast, Queensland 

Legal euthanasia is drawing closer in the Australian state of Queensland. A committee has recommended a bill for voluntary assisted dying (VAD) to the unicameral parliament in a 327-page report. It will be debated in Parliament in September.

MPs from both major parties will be granted a rare conscience vote on this legislation.

The parliamentary committee received more than 6000 submissions from individuals and organisations. Most were in favour, according to the chair, Labor MP Aaron Harper, although he acknowledged that "As a democratic society, we must respect that some will be opposed to a voluntary assisted dying scheme for a variety of reasons that are important to them.”

Mr Harper said that “It is my firm view that the issue of voluntary assisted dying is above politics and religion, this is about people.”

The committee made one important recommendation to the Commonwealth. It said that the federal law banning advice on suicide should be amended to allow doctors to advise people in remote areas how to access VAD. Queensland is a vast and largely empty state and some people will find it difficult to see doctors face to face.

One contentious issue is whether hospitals or aged-care homes could be forced to allow VAD on their premises.

Catholic hospitals indicated that they would defy the legislation, if necessary. “We will not tolerate non-credentialed doctors coming on site, nor will we assist in the provision of voluntary assisted dying in any of our facilities,” the chair of the Mater group told The Australian.

This is an important detail, as Catholic organisations provide 20% of hospital and aged care beds in Queensland.

“Allowing unaccredited doctors to enter hospital rooms, with no notice or permission needed, to assist in a medical procedure to help a patient die is a radical and dangerous undermining of patient safety and should be rejected,” said the CEO of St Vincent’s Health Australia. “It’s partly why the Queensland Australian Medical Association is so strongly against the lack of protection for faith-based hospital providers.

“It’s also about fairness. The Queensland government is forcing Catholic hospital providers – against our values and beliefs – to open up our facilities to assisted dying. That’s deeply unsettling and shocking to us.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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