SA Parliament legalises voluntary euthanasia

South Australia will become the fourth state in the nation to legalise euthanasia after a final amended version of the state’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed the Lower House today.

Jun 24, 2021, updated Jun 24, 2021
Labor MLC Kyam Maher and Deputy Opposition Leader Susan Close, co-sponsors of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, at a rally outside parliament in May (AAP Image/Kelly Barnes)

Labor MLC Kyam Maher and Deputy Opposition Leader Susan Close, co-sponsors of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, at a rally outside parliament in May (AAP Image/Kelly Barnes)

The state’s 17th and final attempt to pass voluntary euthanasia laws cleared its final hurdle in parliament this morning, as the House of Assembly agreed to one final amendment passed by the Legislative Council on Wednesday night.

The amendment, tabled by Liberal MLC Stephen Wade, means retirement villages cannot prevent a doctor coming into their facility to discuss VAD with one of their residents.

The same requirement was already in place for aged care facilities.

The Lower House agreed to the change with no division called for, and the Bill will now be sent to the Governor for formal assent to become law.

Terminally ill South Australians could begin accessing the scheme by the end of next year, depending on how long it takes for health authorities to set up the scheme.

The Bill’s passage marks the end of more than 26 years of parliamentary debate on the matter, with South Australia now the fourth state to legalise voluntary euthanasia after Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia.

The final version of the legislation has 70 safeguards to prevent coercion or wrongful death and has been branded by proponents as the “most conservative” to ever come before the South Australian parliament.

To be eligible for VAD, a patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will cause death within six months or a neurodegenerative disease that will cause death in 12 months, have their decision-making capacity verified by two independent medical practitioners, and have made a request for VAD on five separate occasions.

A doctor also cannot raise the option of VAD with a patient, and the patient must be experiencing intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved.

Five amendments to the bill introduced by the Lower House two weeks ago – which included allowing private hospitals to conscientiously object to the procedure – were agreed to by the Upper House on Wednesday night.

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Labor MLC Kyam Maher, who introduced the Bill to the parliament in December last year, said it was an “historic occasion” for the state.

“We were the first state to put legislation before our parliament in 1995, so 26 years and 17 different bills later we are now the fourth state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying,” Maher said.

“Parliament has now completely finished its work, it’s now over to the health officials to set up the guidelines, the review board and the training for doctors.

“Sometimes in the next 18 months or two years judging by what other states have gone through, South Australians will be able to have access to voluntary assisted dying and end their life with the dignity with which they’ve lived their life.”

Maher spearheaded the push to legalise voluntary euthanasia following the death of his mother in 2016, eight months after she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

He said the legislative process to pass the bill was “difficult” given the “passionate and well-held views” on the issue.

“That’s as it should be, it’s an important issue, but I think it is a relief for the parliament and also for those 85 per cent of South Australians that support voluntary assisted dying,” he said.

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