Queensland’s voluntary assisted dying laws have come into effect - Advance care planning in the context of voluntary assisted dying

Person holding hand of patient

New voluntary assisted dying laws have recently come into effect in Queensland. 

A person is now eligible to access voluntary assisted dying in Queensland if they meet all eligibility criteria. These relate to age, residency, medical requirements, voluntariness, and decision-making capacity.  

Under the legislation, Queenslanders over the age of 18 years who have an eligible disease, illness, or medical condition that is advanced, progressive, causing intolerable suffering and expected to cause death within 12 months, can apply for voluntary assisted dying.  

The person making the decision must be able to understand and evaluate the advice given to them around voluntary assisted dying and be able to communicate their decision.   

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal may be able to review decisions made about some of the eligibility criteria, like residency requirements or whether there is decision-making capacity. However, decisions made about diagnosis or prognosis can only be reviewed by medical practitioners. 

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath announced that all hospital and health service areas across the state will have VAD practitioners.   

Queensland Health has processes in place to allow practitioners to travel to a patient, if there is not someone available nearby. 

Find out more about voluntary assisted dying laws and processes in Queensland and access support.  

Voluntary assisted dying laws in other states  

Queensland is the fourth jurisdiction to have VAD laws come into effect after Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania.  

New voluntary assisted dying laws are still yet to come into effect in the remaining Australian states:  

  • South Australia – 31 January 2023  

  • New South Wales – 28 November 2023  

Voluntary assisted dying has not been legalised in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory as, until recently, Commonwealth laws prevented the Territories from legislating on voluntary assisted dying.   

The role of advance care planning and palliative care in voluntary assisted dying   

Advance care planning (ACP) and palliative care are known to improve end-of-life care and should be priority considerations for all individuals with life-limiting illnesses, their families and health professionals regardless of where they live across Australia.  

While the concepts of advance care planning and voluntary assisted dying are frequently confused in the community, they are two distinct and separate processes. Voluntary assisted dying enables a person who meets strict eligibility criteria to access medication and to legally choose the manner and timing of their death. Advance care planning gives a person the opportunity to express their future medical treatment and care preferences for a time when they cannot speak or make decisions for themselves as they approach their end of life.  

Advance care planning helps to provide individuals with a sense of control when living with chronic or progressive disease, cancer, dementia, or they are just getting older. Palliative care may be a preference that people choose, or are offered, to support them through a life-limiting illness.  

Only 15 per cent of Australians have documented their future preferences in an advance care directive.  

So many people are still leaving others to make their future medical decisions, often without guidance, at a time when the community is seeking greater choice and autonomy over their own care.  

Some important advance care planning considerations concerning voluntary assisted dying include:  

  • voluntary assisted dying laws require that the person has decision-making capacity – from the time of request through to the final act  

  • an advance care directive only comes into effect when the person loses decision-making capacity and should be respected   

  • a person cannot make a request for voluntary assisted dying in their advance care directive 

  • an advance care directive can include instructions to refuse, consent to or withdraw from treatment  

  • a person’s substitute decision-maker is not permitted to request voluntary assisted dying on behalf of a loved one 

  • in the context of a person making a request for voluntary assisted dying, ready access to advance care planning and quality palliative care is essential.  

In countries and jurisdictions where voluntary assisted dying is legal, eligibility criteria mean it is ultimately an option for a few. Advance care planning is, and remains, accessible and relevant to all adults – regardless of health status or age.   

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