Home | Industry & Reform | ACT reveals new VAD bill, different from other states
"Momentous" and "historic", if passed voluntary assisted dying laws could start in late-2025.

ACT reveals new VAD bill, different from other states

Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became the latest jurisdiction to introduce voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation on Tuesday – with the proposed legislation differing from existing laws across Australia.

The introduction of the bill comes almost a year after the federal parliament lifted a 25-year-old ban that prevented Australia's territories from legislating on VAD.

VAD laws will be accessible to people over 18 who have an advanced and progressive condition expected to cause death, are intolerably suffering, are acting voluntarily and have decision-making capabilities throughout, and have lived in the ACT or can prove they have a connection to the territory.

If eligible, the patient would then need to go through what the government has called a "multi-step request and assessment process".

"An assessment will be conducted by two independent and suitably qualified, trained and authorised health professionals," the government said.

Because of the reference to "health professionals", the ACT laws differ from other states nationwide, with nurse practitioners able to assess and administer VAD.

Kerstin Braun, law and justice expert and professor at the University of Southern Queensland Law, said ACT's definition of "health practitioner" broadened those involved in the decision-making process.

"Queensland, for example, nurses can only be the administering practitioners, not the coordinating practitioners who can give VAD," Ms Braun told Aged Care Insite.

"The bill outlines a set definition and rules such as undertaking training and getting a registration."

"There also has to be two independent health professionals, and both cannot be a nurse practitioner."

Another deviation of ACT's bill is that there is no time frame for life expectancy.

NSW VAD laws specify "on the balance of probabilities", with medical professionals needing to determine if the patient's condition or conditions will cause their death within six months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases.

The bill's explanatory statement said those who contributed to the consultation said a six-month time frame could mean an individual would "continue to suffer until they are close to death", and they could also lose their decision-making capacity during that time.

Ms Braun said existing time frames in other states were arbitrary and could be dangerous for those who did not fit the six or 12-month frames.

"The number is not based on any research ... it's arbitrary," she said.

"Let's say a person's estimated end-of-life expectancy was 17 months, but due to the six-month frame, they can't access VAD."

"It's a severe impact and potentially dangerous as they may try to find other ways to end their life."

Minimum standards will be put into place for individuals and organisations that object to or cannot assist with VAD, with health professionals who are against VAD letting the patient know as soon as possible so they can seek advice elsewhere.

Care facilities are also not allowed to hinder access to VAD and can face penalties, including a fine of up to $81,000 in the most extreme circumstances.

Aged care facilities across NSW have yet to have conversations and practices in place about the upcoming VAD laws, with the Anglican Church's synod advising its aged care homes to discourage residents from accessing VAD.

The August report stated the practice would be highly "morally corrupting" for church-run facilities that may have to exit the industry.

"The Board of Anglicare Sydney decided … VAD will not be available at its residential aged care homes, and the organisations and staff will not actively participate in the provision of any VAD services."

"It should be recognised that the existence of VAD may well become an intolerable corruption to the service, thus precipitating the need for withdrawal from residential aged care provision in the future."

Once introduced in the assembly, the bill will be sent to a committee inquiry to allow anyone to share their thoughts via submissions.

The committee will then report back with recommendations before the bill is debated by ACT lawmakers.

If passed, the laws will come into effect 18 months later, and a review will be undertaken three years later.

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