Qld parliament passes voluntary-assisted dying legislation

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The fifth Australian state has voted in favour of euthanasia, with the bill going further than anywhere else in the country.

Queensland has become the fifth state to pass voluntary-assisted dying legislation after a marathon week of debating on the highly sensitive bill.

State parliament has heard dozens of hours of speeches from members throughout the week on the widely supported laws.

Recent polls found Queenslanders overwhelmingly approved euthanasia being available to those who are terminally ill, and that support translated to the floor of parliament, with 61 MPs voting in support following the second reading, compared to just 30 against.

The parliament will continue voting on dozens of amendments to the bill throughout the afternoon but they are all expected to be rejected.

It is now expected the laws will come into effect, making euthanasia available to those who are seriously ill, from the beginning of 2023, following similar laws passed in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Queensland’s laws will go further than other jurisdictions.

Those with a 12-month life expectancy prognosis will be able to access voluntary-assisted death (VAD), while euthanasia is only available to those with a six-month prognosis in all other states where it has been legalised.

Doctors will also be able to approach the topic with terminally ill patients and nurses will be permitted to administer the deadly dose.

Queensland Health said legislation from other states had been carefully considered when drafting its own version but various differences were needed to “meet the needs of our diverse population, taking into account access to health practitioners and our large and decentralised state”.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made the VAD laws a surprising election promise during the 2020 state campaign, vowing to grant a conscience vote to her party members.

Both the Liberal and National parties also gave their members the rare freedom to vote in line with their own views, given the highly sensitive and personal nature of the bill, as well as religious implications.

Given the rare freedom, only a small portion of the state’s MPs were in minority to vote against the bill, which included opposition leader David Crisafulli.

The LNP leader cited the 12-month life expectancy as a key issue in formulating his view, given palliative care services were only available to those with three months to live.

“I believe the intention of the bill is to offer choice, but the reality is that it offers choice on a sliding scale that is in proportion to the size of your bank account or where you live,” he told parliament earlier in the week.

“While my heart hurts for people facing great pain and terminal illness, I can’t assist them to die via flawed legislation.

“I can’t support something that offers the assistance of the state to terminate their life, the same state that does not give them the option of specialist palliative care in the same time frame.”

Deputy Premier Steven Miles, who led the reading of the bill this week, dismissed this objection as a “false argument”.

“Good palliative care should start the day someone is diagnosed and continue until their final days, whether they access voluntary assisted dying or not,” he told parliament.

“But for the very small number of people whose suffering cannot be eased, voluntary assisted dying should be available at that person’s request.

“This week in parliament, each one of us has a chance to vote for fewer bad deaths. To honour our loved ones lives with a good death – surrounded by loved ones and free from pain.”

Tears flowed throughout the week as the issue was debated, but emotions were particularly charged among this cohort of parliamentarians given the recent death of former MP Duncan Pegg.

In his final address to his colleagues in April, the Labor MP urged colleagues to consider the views of terminal patients when the time comes to vote on the voluntary assisted dying legislation.

“I speak as someone who has been fighting cancer for 18 months, who regularly attends a cancer centre and speaks to cancer patients with a terminal illness,” he said.

“Let’s be very clear, people with terminal illnesses don’t want to die, they want to live – they fight to live every day. I personally fight to live every day.

“However, if you are diagnosed (as) terminal, then you are going to face death. People with terminal illnesses won’t have an option.

“I will not tell members how to vote (with) your conscience but before making a decision, I encourage every MP to make sure they speak to – and listen to – people with terminal illness and their families.”

Religious groups have been critical of the government’s refusal to include last minute amendments to the legislation and have complained faith-based groups will be given little access to conscientiously object.

But the Premier insisted no organisation will be forced to provide the scheme and that measures were in place to provide assistance.

“We are not tampering with that bill because we let the experts get that bill right,” she said in parliament on Wednesday.

“This is about not me or about anyone else … telling someone else what to do,” she said.

“Dignity is a word that I hold dear to me.

“There should be and there must be dignity in death.”

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