Queensland – the next Australian state to legalise Assisted Dying?

A parliamentary committee has recommended that the Australian state of Queensland should legalise voluntary assisted dying for adults with an advanced terminal illness.

Currently over one-third of Australians have, (or shortly will have), access to a form of assisted dying since the state of Victoria passed its voluntary assisted dying law in 2017, followed by Western Australia in 2019. If Queensland follows, this would give the option of an assisted death to well over half (57%) of Australians.

 The Queensland report recommends that any assisted dying legislation there should be limited to:

  • Adults over 18
  • Queensland residents
  • Those ‘having an advanced and progressive terminal, chronic or neurodegenerative medical condition that cannot be alleviated in a manner acceptable to the person, and that the condition will cause death.’
  • People with ‘decision-making capacity’.

Any conversation about the possibility of an assisted death would have to be instigated by the person wishing to die. Counselling should be available to anyone who requests it, but should not be compulsory, as some submissions to the enquiry had advocated.

Importantly the report recommends that the legislation should not be limited to a ‘precise timeframe for a person’s anticipated date of death … due to the complex, subjective and unpredictable nature of the prognosis of terminal illness.’ This follows from the Canadian model, which was cited in evidence to the enquiry.  

Another thoughtful recommendation is that ‘the coordinating practitioner may determine whether self-administration of the substance or administration by the practitioner is the method best suited to the patient.’ It would permit the lethal substance to be provided intravenously, controlled either by the patient or by the doctor. This overcomes one of the problems with oral methods used in Oregon and other US states. Experience from the organisation Lifecircle in Switzerland, indicates that the Intravenous method is the quickest and most reliable, as their IV method (in which the client opens the cannula) results in a person falling asleep within thirty seconds and dying peacefully within four minutes. This recommendation again follows the example of Canada.

Mental illness is a question that often comes up in assisted dying debates. The report recommends that provided the person has the mental capacity to make a life-ending decision, any mental illness itself should not prevent an otherwise valid request for an assisted death.

Despite the careful analysis demonstrated in the report, an Australian newspaper, The Age, points out that political focus in Queensland is rightly concentrated on tackling the Covid-19 crisis. It is currently unclear when legislation will be proposed.

Phil Cheatle the Lead Campaign Commentator for My Death, My Decision said:

‘The Queensland report is encouraging as it pays close attention to important nuances of the assisted dying debate and takes on board experience from Victoria and Canada. It recommends following Canada in not limiting assisted dying to a strict prognosis time limit such as 6 months and in permitting intravenous delivery. These overcome two serious criticisms of the US/Oregon approach and we strongly endorse Queensland’s decision to avoid them.’