Victoria’s ‘citizen-driven’ voluntary assisted dying laws apply from today

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Australia’s first enduring voluntary assisted dying laws come into effect today in Victoria.

‘The laws are not only a major shift in the response to end of life —they are a watershed in the rise of the consumer voice in health’, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said.

‘Public support for voluntary assisted dying is very strong—it was estimated at 75% in an ABC survey back in 2016—so the movement towards legislative reform is not surprising.

‘It is likely other states will follow Victoria’s lead in due course.

‘The key to legislative change in Victoria was the approach taken in developing the new laws. It was citizen-driven and inclusive, combining evidence, science and social action’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘Accordingly, the laws are cautious, with many safeguards—but they have been agreed on and passed.

‘In 2018 AHHA published two research papers on this topic in our peer-reviewed  Australian Health Review journal—Documenting the process of developing the Victorian assisted dying legislation (author team led by Professor Margaret O’Connor, Monash University), and the Future of assisted dying reform in Australia (by Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott, Queensland University of Technology). Professor White is an associate editor with the Australian Health Review.

‘The authors argued that the rise of individualism and personal autonomy in society has been a key factor in changing social attitudes to issues such as assisted dying’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘They argued that “restlessness” in democratic societies can be attributed to individuals seeking to maximise their places in society through expressing their individuality and autonomy in various ways.

‘This includes making their own informed choices in healthcare, in the context of a more equal relationship between consumers, the professions and governments—and a cultural shift away from traditional “top down” communication patterns.

‘In Victoria, the process of reform began with a state government request to the Parliamentary Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into the need for Victorians to make informed decisions regarding the end of their lives.

‘Significantly, the Committee comprises membership from all political parties and cross benches—it’s noteworthy that parliaments across Australia are increasingly taking this approach to complex social issues.

‘The Committee sought input from all sectors of the community and received over 1,000 submissions before recommending legislating for voluntary assisted dying (VAD), using an approach most likely to be passed in the Parliament—where VAD would only apply to people in the end stages of terminal illness, and with numerous safeguards and respect for conscientious objections.

‘The Victorian Government then formed an innovative seven-person Multidisciplinary Advisory Panel to progress the work, supported by Department of Health and Human Services staff. The legislation was never in question, only the shape of it with regard to eligibility, the request and assessment process, and oversight and governance. Again, consultation and listening to concerns were key, as well as catering for every detail.

‘Ultimately the process achieved its aims. The legislation is now enacted, and the mechanisms are in place. Both will serve as models for other jurisdictions as they develop their own voluntary assisted dying legislation’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘There may well be unanticipated practical issues to overcome, and the laws may need improving and amending—but this should be expected and welcomed as part of any major reform process.’

The papers may be accessed using the links above.

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries:  Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

0403 282 501