Govt in no rush to allow voluntary euthanasia despite legislation

Voluntary assisted dying advocates say a government decision to hold off allowing euthanasia until March 29, 2023 – 21 months after legislation passed – will prolong the suffering of South Australians with terminal illness.

Feb 25, 2022, updated Feb 25, 2022
Supporters of a voluntary assisted dying during a candle light rally on the steps of Parliament House. Photo: Kelly Barnes/AAP

Supporters of a voluntary assisted dying during a candle light rally on the steps of Parliament House. Photo: Kelly Barnes/AAP

It comes after SA Health this week released tenders to develop an information system and training package for the implementation of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021, which passed state parliament in a historic vote in June.

The government has indicated that the laws will come into effect on March 29, 2023, with Health Minister Stephen Wade previously telling parliament that it was important to “take the time you need to plan and implement such an important initiative”.

But SA Health would not answer questions from InDaily about why the legislation would take over a year to come into effect, citing an ongoing tender process.

Voluntary Assisted Dying South Australia president Frances Coombe, who is on a government-appointed taskforce to guide the implementation of the legislation, told InDaily advocates were pushing for a November 30, 2022 start-date in accordance with the time it took to enforce euthanasia laws in other states.

She said states including Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania had provided South Australia with guidelines and information about how they implemented their legislation and South Australia “doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel”.

“Considering the other states – Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and also Queensland – have worked through the implementation process and are willing to share all that information with us, we don’t see why it should take that long,” she said.

“The March 29 date next year means South Australia’s going to take 100 days longer than Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania and 200 days later than Queensland to implement the legislation.

“The actual impact is people are effectively forced to suffer.”

Coombe said the taskforce, chaired by Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Chris Moy, was working with SA Health to try to bring the implementation start date forward.

She said next month’s election shouldn’t cause a delay, as other states had also implemented legislation during an election year.

“We’re just going to have to keep pushing,” Coombe said.

“We have asked people to contact their members of parliament asking when the Act is going to commence to keep that pressure up.

“People need to realise that people are suffering in the meantime.”

Meanwhile, SA Health is looking to appoint an education provider to deliver training to clinicians on voluntary assisted dying.

According to a tender document released this week, the training will help clinicians understand how voluntary assisted dying will work in practice and the legal framework for its use in South Australia.

SA Health has released a separate tender to develop an information system to monitor compliance of clinicians and to store voluntary assisted dying data.

“The system will be both internal for SA Health clinicians and externally facing for General Practitioners (GPs) and private clinicians who will require access to participate,” the tender document states.

Coombe described the release of the tenders as “good progress”.

“Certainly, the taskforce has been getting a lot of support from SA Health and there’s a lot of work going on there,” she said.

“We would hope that that would work for an earlier commencement by November 30.

“It would certainly be saving people that awful choice of either suffering until the bitter end or forced to make a decision to take their own lives.”

The Australian Medical Association predicts about 100 South Australians will choose to access voluntary assisted dying each year.

In a submission to political parties ahead of next month’s election, the association said it was concerned that funding and resources for palliative care could be overlooked once the voluntary assisted dying scheme starts.

“We believe it is vital that every South Australian seeking end of life care should be able to expect those services, as outlined in some of the world’s best legislation for caring for those at the end of life,” it wrote.

In response to questions from InDaily, SA Health sent a link to its website, which states the government was “committed to ensuring implementation is managed with expertise, experience and compassion for the safe operation of voluntary assisted dying”.

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