The Queensland Law Reform Commission has released its review into Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation with the Premier announcing that the legislation will be put forward to parliament next week.
Firstly, on behalf of the Uniting Church in Queensland, I thank the Queensland Law Reform Commission for their thorough and considered work on this incredibly important issue. Some of the recommendations made by the Commission must be adopted, particularly that a person must be at least 18 years of age and more safeguards than most other Australian legislation, such as the requirement for the request to be enduring and stating that a person is not eligible to access voluntary assisted dying for the only reason of having a disability and/or a mental illness.
However, the church has a number of concerns with the legislation as it stands and we urge the Government to provide clarity.
- The legislation outlines that receiving a diagnosis that is expected to cause death within 12 months and physical or mental suffering are eligibility criterion. There are a number of instances where a person may outlive their diagnosis and we are concerned about the inclusion of mental suffering as an eligibility criteria.
- The legislation prescribes a nine-day timeframe between the first and final request. What are the support services that people can access in that nine-day period? People can access voluntary assisted dying within an even shorter time frame if the person is likely to die, or to lose decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying, before the end of the nine-day period;
- Greater clarity and safeguards around enduring decision-making capacity.
- We are concerned that the Bill allows for a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner to initiate discussion with the person that is in substance about voluntary assisted dying.
- Clarity around the definition of suffering. The legislation doesn’t define mental suffering and it is likely that it would take court cases to clarify this.
- Clarity around institutional conscientious objection. We welcome the inclusion of conscientious objection for entities and the clarity this will bring. However, this draft Bill obligates entities to have voluntary assisted dying administered in their facility, despite their conscientious objection. This creates the potential for serious values and belief conflicts for entities established to demonstrate the intrinsic value of every person, at every stage of life in every circumstance of life.
The position of the Uniting Church in Queensland is that we are opposed to voluntary assisted dying legislation. This position has not changed.
While we may not provide voluntary assisted dying as a service, we will not abandon people. We will continue to provide high quality care to anyone in our facilities. If they choose to make a decision, we will not hinder or obstruct the decision. We will continue to compassionately support them.
We understand that this is an issue that has the potential to divide the community. We ask for respectful and graceful debate.
Rev Andrew Gunton
Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod