What the F is: Voluntary Assisted Dying
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
CW: medical and death
The Queensland Premier promised that a Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill would be tabled in 2020, before the state election. Citing COVID, she then pushed it back to 2021. The Bill has been introduced into Parliament, and in September, state MPs will vote on whether it should be passed. There is already a lot of discussion going on around VAD, and with that comes myths and conspiracy theories.
What is Voluntary Assisted Dying?
Voluntary Assisted Dying, or VAD, is a medical treatment that will allow people who meet very specific and strict criteria to choose to end their suffering on their own terms. The medication is administered by a doctor. VAD is all about choice. Having VAD medication available to patients means providing the terminally ill the autonomy to choose.
What is the Bill about?
The Bill is about ensuring access and safety surrounds the medication. As VAD is not currently legal in Queensland, it has been reported on several occasions that terminally ill patients have turned to violent methods to end their suffering, or refusing food and water until they die of starvation. The Bill will give those who want to, to die with dignity, and on their own terms. Legalising VAD does not affect those who don't wish to access the medication. There are plenty of safeguards included in the Bill, which will ensure
Who will qualify for VAD?
VAD will only be available to the terminally ill. To access VAD, patients will have to be:
Over the age of 18;
Terminally ill with a life expectancy of six months, or 12 months for those with a neurodegenerative disease;
Mentally competent (patients with dementia or similar diagnoses will not be eligible); and
Experiencing unbearable suffering that cannot be eased.
There are also ample safeguards in place to ensure the patients are positive they wish to use the medication, and that they qualify. Doctors will be required to give qualifying patients every option including palliative care.
What are the safeguards?
The main safeguard is the law itself, as legislating VAD will stop the need for alternate methods to be used. Currently, doctors legally can put a patient into a coma with the use of medication and maintain the coma until the patient passes away. This can take days or even weeks, and usually results in trauma for family and friends. This can be done without a patient's consent, whereas VAD required continued consent from the patient. In addition, patients can suicide or have a family member or doctor help them to die, which can result in criminal charges and prison time for said family members or doctors.
The safeguards written into the Bill are:
Your request to access VAD must be signed off by two doctors
You can change your mind at any time, right up to the moment you take the medication
Doctors must intervene if they suspect coercion
Coercion will be punishable by law
An independent body will be created to review the law and ensure its safety
The right to choose a good death
VAD is about choice. We have been campaigning for autonomy over our bodies for decades, so why should the choice stop when you reach the end of your life? VAD campaigners talk about a 'good death,' which is likely a foreign concept to many of us. But a good death is possible, and for the terminally ill, only accessible with the legislation of VAD. People with a terminal illness do not want to die. Most have fought to live for some time. But when they run out of options, they do deserve the autonomy to choose, and to die with dignity.
Successful VAD Legislation examples
Four states in Australia have legislated VAD, with South Australia most recently passing the laws. Tasmania passed the laws in 2021 and the law will come into effect around October 2022. Western Australia's laws just came into effect in July, and eligible Victorians have had access to VAD for a few years. The laws across the country differ slightly, but the main features remain consistent throughout. Queensland's drafted bill was influenced by the successful legislation from other states. To view the slight differences in the laws for each state, visit QUT's End of Life Laws page.
There are multiple countries internationally that also have variations of VAD legislation, however it is important not to compare them to Australia's. Some of the international laws differ significantly from the enacted laws in Australia and drafted Bill in Queensland. While the concept is similar, the details are not. Anti-VAD campaigners will often point to stories and evidence overseas when calling for VAD legislation to be thrown out. It's vitally important that the community know not to apply overseas cases and laws to Queensland's campaign to pass VAD.
Call your MP about VAD Legislation
If what you've read about VAD makes you think it's something that should be legislated, make sure to tell your state MP (for those in Queensland). You can find your electorate, MP, and their contact details here. It takes just one of two minutes to call their office and tell them that you'd like to register your support for the VAD Bill that will be voted on in September. If you have more to say, or a personal experience with VAD, terminal illness, or unbearable suffering, consider writing to your MP about it. Experts say that a personal story holds more weight than a handful of non-personal letters.
For more information about VAD go to, gogentleaustralia.org.au