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08 April 2020

Queensland Parliamentary Committee endorses draft legislation written by QUT Professors as the basis for voluntary assisted dying legislative reform.

Professors Lindy Willmott and Ben White submitted a Model Bill to the Queensland Parliamentary Committee regarding Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws in Australia. Queensland Parliament recently handed down the Voluntary Assisted Dying Report which endorsed this Model Bill. The committee recommended that the Queensland Government use the draft legislation submitted to the inquiry by Professors Willmott and White as the basis for a legislative scheme on voluntary assisted dying.

“During the Qld Parliamentary Committee inquiry, we heard heart-breaking stories about people who experienced bad deaths where the pain was not controlled adequately. If the proposed legislation is passed, some patients will have other options at the end of life,” said Professor Ben White.

Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation already exists in differing forms in Australia and across the world. The recommendations put forward are based on Victoria’s legislation, but there are points of difference.

 “Drafting legislation on voluntary assisted dying is difficult. We needed to think carefully about the values that should underpin legislation of this kind.

So that’s where we started – articulating those values: life, autonomy, freedom of conscience, equality, protecting the vulnerable, rule of law, reducing human suffering, and safe and high quality care.”

The Victorian model is based on the US models but Ben and Lindy believe their model for Queensland is preferable. For example, in the US States that have legislation, a person seeking VAD must have a terminal prognosis of 6 months until death. In Victoria and Western Australia it is also 6 months, but 12 months for neurodegenerative disease. Under the proposed Bill the person’s condition must be incurable, advanced and progressive and will cause death but there is no requirement for a certain timeframe until death. “This avoids difficulties around doctors having to predict when a person is likely to die, which is a very difficult task and one that can’t really be done accurately,” said Professor Lindy Willmott.

This draft Bill also differs from Victorian law where there is a prohibition on health professionals raising the topic of VAD even if they think it is an option that their patient may wish to consider. “We believe that allowing health professionals to raise the topic promotes autonomy by ensuring a person has sufficient information to make a choice about treatment,” said Professor Lindy Willmott. Other differences include promoting patient choice and autonomy, allowing the patient to choose the manner of administration, under the supervision of a doctor.

The Chair of the Queensland Parliamentary Committee praised the submission stating, “The assistance provided by Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott warrants special acknowledgement. Their depth of knowledge and ability to assist the committee with international experts in countries where voluntary assisted dying has existed for years was of great benefit to the committee during its inquiry. The drafting of their sample Bill and explanatory notes is exemplary and, therefore, the first recommendation in this report is to introduce legislation for a voluntary assisted dying scheme in Queensland based on this sample Bill. The assistance of the professors was certainly deeply appreciated by the committee.”

QUT Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott have been working in the field since 2002. To have their recommendations shape such a complex but important issue is not only a significant achievement, but a reflection of the real-world contribution QUT facilitates as a national leader in Health Law research.

“This sort of research excellence, impact and collaborative research effort and engagement is what distinguishes the Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR) as Australia’s leading health law research centre,” said Associate Professor and Co-Director of ACHLR, Tina Cockburn.

The news comes as the Vice-Chancellor announced ACHLR as one of ten Tier Two Faculty and Institute Research Centres for the university.

To find out more information on End of Life law, see here.