Voluntary assisted dying—use evidence when making the laws

Thursday, December 5, 2019

‘Parliamentarians need to actively consider evidence when deliberating on proposed voluntary assisted dying laws’, says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive, Alison Verhoeven.

‘This is aside from differing ethical positions, which are to be expected, and will likely always be a source of disagreement.’

Ms Verhoeven was commenting on a perspective paper, ‘Evidence-based law making on voluntary assisted dying’, recently published in the AHHA’s Australian Health Review journal.

The paper was written by health law experts Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott from the Queensland University of Technology.

Prof. Willmott said that various claims are made about voluntary assisted dying that, without supporting evidence, should not be used to justify passing sections of proposed legislation.

‘For example, there may be claims that vulnerable groups are more likely to request voluntary assisted dying, therefore Clause X is an essential safeguard against this.

‘Claims such as these demand evidence—in essence, an objective “fact check without prejudice”.

‘It is well accepted that clinical care should be based on evidence.

‘In the same way, when making laws on sensitive health issues such as voluntary assisted dying, our politicians need to be aware of proper validated sources of evidence for each issue covered by proposed legislation’, Prof. Willmott said.

‘If we don’t do this, patients, health professionals and the health system generally may be left with a sub-optimal and problematic regulatory framework.’

Prof. Willmott said that although there had been limited recognition to date of the value of an evidence-based approach in developing voluntary assisted dying laws, it was not too late for those states and territories keen to follow Victoria in developing voluntary assisted dying legislation.

The Western Australian parliament is currently considering legislation presented in August 2019, Tasmania is expecting a bill to be presented within the next 12 months, and Queensland and South Australia are holding parliamentary inquiries on the issue.


‘Evidence-based law-making on voluntary assisted dying’ can be accessed here.

More information on AHHA is available at ahha.asn.au

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

Media enquiries: Lindy Willmott, Professor of Law, QUT

0419 706 214