Queensland MPs vote to legalise voluntary assisted dying
By Ben Smee
3 - 4 minutes
Queensland has passed laws that will allow voluntary assisted dying for people with a terminal illness, with an overwhelming majority of MPs voting in favour.
The state – often perceived as Australia’s most socially conservative – becomes the fifth Australian jurisdiction to allow voluntary euthanasia.
The state parliament voted 60 to 29 in favour, despite a fierce campaign by faith-based groups and attempts by opponents to introduce amendments that would have imposed barriers to access the new scheme.
Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) will be restricted to people with an advanced and progressive condition that causes intolerable suffering and was expected to cause death within a year.
The person must have decision-making capacity and will have to be separately and independently assessed by two doctors. They will then be required to make three separate requests over at least nine days.
The laws also allow doctors and healthcare providers to conscientiously object. Faith-based organisations that run hospitals and aged care homes had argued for stronger rights to object, which would have acted to prevent some residents from accessing VAD.
In the end – after 55 separate amendments were debated and rejected – the laws passed as drafted by the state’s independent law reform commission.
The conscience vote largely split along party lines; most Labor MPs were in favour, most from the LNP voted against. Campaigners in favour of VAD laws were pleased with the healthy majority, which they said would discourage future attempts to wind back the scheme.
Debate in parliament was particularly emotional; supporters and opponents each shared personal stories to outline their positions.
The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, a supporter of VAD, spoke about the deaths of family members, including her nanna, who passed away last year.
“[My uncle] had the best possible care in the hospital but I think he would have preferred a more dignified death,” she said.
“With my nanna, my mother rang me this morning and asked when I was speaking on this bill and said ‘can you please remember nanna’.
“During the final time in her life [my nanna] rang me and said ‘I’m in pain’ and I actually couldn’t go and see her because I had work, and to this day I will always regret not going and helping her during that time.
“She was crying out in pain during the last 48 hours, but she lived a good life to 95.”
The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, broke down as she spoke about her late mother’s suffering during her final years.
“My mother died of Alzheimer’s,” D’Ath said. “We had discussions about life and death. I know what she’d choose, she’d choose voluntary assisted dying.”
After the vote, Palaszczuk said the passage of the bill was a “historic moment”.
“Dignity is a word that I hold dear,” she said.
“There is dignity in work. There is dignity in the family and friends that surround you. And there should be dignity in death.”
The deputy premier, Steven Miles, who spearheaded the passage of the laws through parliament, said they were “fundamentally about compassion”.
“But they are also about giving back control to people who have had their autonomy stripped from them by illness.
“It comes after decades of advocacy by passionate citizens, themselves carrying the trauma of having watched relatives die in pain or facing a traumatic death themselves.
“I am grateful to those MPs on both sides who expressed their support for the bill. I’m also grateful to those who expressed their opposition to the bill. While we respectfully disagree, I believe the debate has been richer for their contributions.”
Labor MP Don Brown paid tribute for former Labor MP Duncan Pegg, who died earlier this year.
The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, said Catholic healthcare providers would “continue accompanying all kinds of people to death and beyond compassionately and peacefully … as we have for a very long time
“The die is cast and across the Rubicon we go,” Coleridge said. “Some kind of victory for the government but a real defeat for Queensland, a victory for death but a defeat for life. Now we await the dark spectacle of unexpected consequences.”
Legal experts have said the bill provides effective safeguards and balances the interests of the terminally ill with institutional objections.
The scheme will be operational from January 2023.
Voluntary-assisted dying is already legal in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.