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Eligibility

The law includes strict eligibility criteria for accessing voluntary assisted dying. This reflects the underlying principle that voluntary assisted dying is only an option for people at the end of life who are suffering and dying.

To be eligible, a person must meet all elements of the eligibility criteria.

Eligibility criteria

The person must be separately and independently assessed by two medical practitioners (who meet qualification and training requirements).

They must meet all of the following five criteria. They must:

  1. have an eligible condition
  2. have decision-making capacity
  3. be acting voluntarily and without coercion
  4. be at least 18 years of age
  5. fulfil residency requirements.

Eligible condition

An eligible condition is a disease, illness or medical condition that is:

  • advanced, progressive and will cause death
  • expected to cause death within 12 months and
  • causing suffering that the person considers to be intolerable. Whether the person’s suffering is intolerable is a subjective assessment by the person themselves. This element of the eligibility criteria is a crucial control over who is eligible for the scheme.

Being elderly or frail does not make someone eligible for voluntary assisted dying.

Having a disability or mental illness does not make someone eligible for voluntary assisted dying. However, a person with a disability or mental illness may be eligible if they meet all eligibility criteria, including having an eligible condition and decision-making capacity.

What this means for people with dementia

It’s unlikely someone with dementia would meet the eligibility criteria for voluntary assisted dying as they would need to both have decision-making capacity throughout the entire process and a condition that is expected to cause death within 12 months.

A fundamental safeguard of the scheme is that a person must have decision-making capacity at all stages of the process. They will also need to meet all other eligibility criteria. This is to help protect the vulnerable from coercion, abuse and exploitation. As a result, some people seeking access to voluntary assisted dying may not meet the scheme’s eligibility requirements.

There are many different types of dementia and a person’s assessing doctors would need to determine their eligibility against the criterial to access the scheme. Discussions with those seeking the option of voluntary assisted dying will always include information about end of life, palliative care treatment and practical support.

Some people seeking access to voluntary assisted dying won’t meet the strict eligibility requirements. They will be encouraged to talk to their doctor about other support services that may help.

12 month timeframe

The law requires that the person’s disease, illness or medical condition is expected to cause their death within 12 months. This timeframe makes it clear that voluntary assisted dying is an option only for those who are at the end of life. It isn’t a choice between life and death. It is an additional end of life option for those already dying to end their suffering.

The QLRC recommended this timeframe to ensure consistency with current health care practice and Australia’s end of life palliative care framework. This timeframe takes into account the clinical paths of different diseases, illnesses or medical conditions that are advanced, progressive and will cause death. This approach ensures that a person meeting the eligibility criteria does not continue to suffer unnecessarily if their death is expected within 12 months and their suffering is intolerable.

It also allows time for them to begin the request and assessment process.

Decision-making capacity

A fundamental safeguard in the law is that the person seeking access to voluntary assisted dying has decision-making capacity for voluntary assisted dying. Their decision-making capacity must be independently assessed by two medical practitioners as part of the request and assessment process.

This assessment includes determining that the person is capable of:

  • understanding the nature and effect of decisions about access to voluntary assisted dying
  • freely and voluntarily making decisions about access to voluntary assisted dying and
  • communicating decisions about access to voluntary assisted dying in some way.

If the practitioner assesses that the person is eligible for voluntary assisted dying, they must also inform the person that they can decide to stop access or not continue with the voluntary assisted dying process at any time.

Last updated: 17 September 2021