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Frequently asked questions

Queensland’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021

This information is for people who want to know more about voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 16 September 2021. The legislation allows for a voluntary assisted dying scheme to be established with safeguards and strict eligibility requirements.

Access to voluntary assisted dying will be available from 1 January 2023, when the law comes into place.

What is voluntary assisted dying?

Voluntary assisted dying is about choice. It provides those who are terminally ill and suffering intolerable pain as they near the end of their life, an option about how, when and where they die.

It’s important to remember, the scheme is voluntary and a person can choose to stop at any time.

Given its strict eligibility criteria, only a small number of people will be able to access voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.

Why do we need voluntary assisted dying?

All Queenslanders are entitled to high-quality end of life and palliative care. There are currently limited options for Queenslanders who are dying and wish to end their suffering. Aiding or counselling a person who is dying and suffering to commit suicide is a criminal offence.

Voluntary assisted dying, when available as a legal end of life option, will give comfort to those with a life-limiting condition looking for further choice.

Access to voluntary assisted dying will be available in Queensland from 1 January 2023 when the law comes into effect.

Is this really something Queenslanders want?

Queenslanders and health practitioners are generally supportive of voluntary assisted dying and for it to be legal in Queensland.

A range of polls have found that around 80 per cent of Queenslanders support laws allowing voluntary assisted dying.

What consultation was undertaken to bring the law into place?

The legislation is the outcome of extensive work and consultation by two parliamentary committee inquiries and a year long inquiry by the independent and expert Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC).

This work began in 2018, with broader policy work undertaken by the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee from 2018 to 2020. The Queensland Parliament Health and Environment Committee handed down its report on 20 August 2021 following a 12 week inquiry into the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021.

In total 39 hearings have considered testimony, views and stories from hundreds of experts and witnesses, and more than 10,000 written submissions from across the state. Thousands of Queenslanders and organisations have been consulted along the way including:

  • the general community
  • clinical experts
  • legal experts
  • health and care providers
  • religious groups
  • unions and many more.

Members of Parliament from all sides of politics were given a conscience vote following debate of the Bill. Many hosted forums and consulted with their local communities before the debate and voting.

What consultation is being undertaken with First Nations communities?

First Nations people, like all Queenslanders, have a right to be fully informed about voluntary assisted dying.

Consultation with First Nations’ stakeholders was undertaken as part of the regional hearings undertaken by both parliamentary committee inquiries.

Further engagement will be undertaken with First Nations communities during the implementation period. This will be done in a culturally safe, responsive and sensitive manner and look into the most appropriate ways to share information and develop supporting resources.

When was the law passed?

The law was passed on 16 September 2021 following debate of legislation by the Queensland Parliament. Members of Parliament were given a conscience vote for the debate.

Why isn’t voluntary assisted dying already available if a law has been passed?

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 passed on 16 September 2021 provides for a voluntary assisted dying scheme to commence on 1 January 2023.

It will take time to put in place the many complex clinical, and administrative arrangements needed as part of implementing a scheme.

Queensland Health is managing this work which includes:

  • establishing a:
    • Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board
    • Statewide Care Navigator Service.
  • developing:
    • training
    • guidelines
    • processes.
  • engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders including:
    • medical professionals
    • First Nations communities
    • culturally and linguistically diverse groups
    • rural and remote communities.

When will access to voluntary assisted dying be available?

Access to voluntary assisted dying will be available in Queensland from 1 January 2023, when the Act commences.

How can someone access voluntary assisted dying?

A Statewide Care Navigator Service will provide information and support to people seeking access to voluntary assisted dying, their families and friends as well as health practitioners.

The Bill sets out a process for accessing voluntary assisted dying. It includes many safeguards to ensure only eligible people will be able to access the scheme and to protect vulnerable people from coercion, abuse and exploitation.

Will voluntary assisted dying be available to everyone who has a terminal illness?

There are 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:

  1. have an eligible condition
  2. have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying
  3. be acting voluntarily and without coercion
  4. be aged at least 18 years
  5. fulfil residency requirements (i.e. be an Australian citizen, permanent resident or ordinarily have lived in Australia for at least three years and in Queensland for 12 months before making the ‘first request’. Exemptions to these requirements may apply).

All five criteria must be met.

What is an eligible condition?

To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying, a person must have been diagnosed with 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.

How soon after making the first request for voluntary assisted dying could someone end their life?

Before a person can access voluntary assisted dying, they must make three separate requests over at least nine days. This is the minimum time period between the first and final request. This timeframe was determined to help ensure the person’s decision isn’t rushed and allow time for them to reflect on their choices without their suffering being drawn out.

An exception to this minimum nine day period may apply if the coordinating doctor and consulting doctor both consider that the person is likely to die or lose decision-making capacity in less than nine days.

What happens in other Australian states?

Queensland is the fifth Australian state to make voluntary assisted dying legal.

Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and most recently South Australia have all passed voluntary assisted dying laws. Victoria’s scheme has been in place since June 2019 while Western Australia’s came into place on 1 July 2021. Tasmania and South Australia are in the process of setting up their schemes.

Isn’t voluntary assisted dying just legalising suicide?

The law is clear that a person who dies as a result of voluntary assisted dying in accordance with the law does not die by suicide. The person is taken to have died from the disease, illness or medical condition from which they were dying.

To be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying, a person must meet strict eligibility criteria that requires them to be dying. This isn’t a choice between life and death.

Protection of the vulnerable

How does the law protect vulnerable people?

There are many safeguards built into the scheme to ensure it will only be accessed by people who are eligible and to protect the vulnerable from coercion, abuse and exploitation.

A fundamental safeguard is that a person needs to have decision-making capacity at all stages of the process. The person’s decision-making capacity must be independently assessed by two medical practitioners as part of their eligibility assessment.

The law also requires that the person be assessed as acting voluntarily and without coercion, to be informed about other end of life options, and to demonstrate their choice is enduring.

Safeguards throughout the scheme include:

  • strict eligibility criteria
  • a staged request and assessment process
  • a requirement that an administration decision be made in consultation with and on the advice of the coordinating practitioner
  • qualification and training requirements for practitioners involved
  • health care workers are prohibited from initiating discussions about voluntary assisted dying
  • independent oversight by a review board
  • specific requirements for managing the voluntary assisted dying substance and
  • offences that apply where there is non-compliance with the law.

Can children access voluntary assisted dying?

No. Voluntary assisted dying will only be available to adults (people 18 years or older). This is consistent with other relevant Queensland laws and the approach taken in other Australian states where voluntary assisted dying is legal.

Can someone with dementia access voluntary assisted dying?

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 will need to 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.

There are many different types of dementia and the assessing doctors would need to determine the person’s eligibility against the criteria 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 eligibility requirements to access it. They will be encouraged to talk to their doctor about other support services that may help.

What safeguards are there to protect a person from coercion or undue pressure from family members?

The law has a wide range of safeguards including provisions aimed to protect the vulnerable from coercion, abuse and exploitation. These safeguards include that a person who is a beneficiary of a will or may otherwise benefit from the person’s death is not able to be a witness to a second request.

Another safeguard is the requirement for two medical practitioners to independently assess that the person  has decision-making capacity and is acting voluntarily and without coercion.

The staged request and assessment process is another safeguard to ensure a person is acting voluntarily and without coercion, and that their decision is enduring.

Can voluntary assisted dying be set up in a person’s Advance Health Directive, should they lose decision making capacity from a disease such as dementia?

No. Voluntary assisted dying cannot be included within an Advance Health Directive.

A fundamental safeguard of the scheme is that a person must have capacity to make decisions themselves about voluntary assisted dying at ALL stages throughout the process.

Information for health professionals and health care providers

Do all health care providers have to participate in voluntary assisted dying?

Queensland’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 aims to balance the rights of health service and care providers (e.g. hospitals, hospices, residential aged care facilities) with the rights of individuals seeking access to voluntary assisted dying.

There are legal requirements for service providers at each stage of the voluntary assisted dying process.

Guidance for health services and aged care providers regarding their rights and legal responsibilities related to voluntary assisted dying will be developed by Queensland Health during the scheme’s implementation period.

The department will work with health and aged care professionals and providers—including those that may have an objection to providing voluntary assisted dying—to help with the development of policies and other arrangements ahead of the scheme coming into effect on 1 January 2023.

How will those working in health care involved in voluntary assisted dying be protected from criminal liability?

The legislation offers protection from criminal liability to health care practitioners legally working under or interacting with the voluntary assisted dying scheme. This includes those assisting a person to access voluntary assisted dying or who is present when the substance is administered.

Will health care professionals be trained to do this work?

Yes. Health care practitioners wishing to work or participate in the scheme will need to meet eligibility requirements and be approved to do so.

Mandatory training will be provided before practitioners can provide voluntary assisted dying. Training requirements will vary depending on the role and this is approved by the Queensland Health chief executive.  Work will be done during the scheme’s implementation period to ensure that policies, procedures and systems are in place before the scheme starts on 1 January 2023.

To be eligible to act as a coordinating practitioner or consulting practitioner, a medical practitioner must be:

  • a specialist who has practised for at least one year as a specialist,
  • a general practitioner who has practised for at least five years as a holder of general registration,
  • a specialist who has practised for at least five years as the holder of general registration, or
  • an overseas-trained specialist who holds limited registration or provisional registration.

To be eligible to act as an administering practitioner, the person must be:

  • a medical practitioner who is eligible to act as a coordinating practitioner
  • a nurse practitioner who meets the approved nurse practitioner requirements or
  • a registered nurse who has practised in the nursing profession for at least five years and meets the approved nurse requirements.

What will happen if a doctor refuses to help a person access voluntary assisted dying?

Doctors have the right to refuse to participate in the voluntary assisted dying process. If a doctor with a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying receives a request they are required by law to:

  • immediately inform the person of their refusal and the reason for their refusal
  • inform the person that other health practitioners, health service providers or services may be able to provide assistance
  • provide the person with information about a health practitioner, health service provider or service likely to be able to provide assistance, or the details of the official Statewide Care Navigator Service.

If a health care practitioner refuses to provide information about a voluntary assisted dying provider or service to someone seeking it, the matter may be referred to Queensland’s Health Ombudsman for investigation and possible disciplinary proceedings.

The law does not include specific penalties for failure to comply with the conscientious objection requirements.

Do all health care providers have to participate in voluntary assisted dying?

Queensland’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 aims to balance the rights of health service and care providers (e.g. hospitals, hospices, residential aged care facilities) with the rights of individuals seeking access to voluntary assisted dying.

There are legal requirements for service providers at each stage of the voluntary assisted dying process.

Guidance for health services and aged care providers regarding their rights and legal responsibilities related to voluntary assisted dying will be developed by Queensland Health during the scheme’s implementation period.

The department will work with health and aged care professionals and providers—including those that may have an objection to providing voluntary assisted dying—to help with the development of policies and other arrangements ahead of the scheme coming into effect on 1 January 2023.

Palliative care

Why isn’t the government just increasing funding for palliative care?

As part of its commitment to providing Queenslanders with quality and accessible palliative care, the Queensland Government has invested additional funding of $171 million from 2021-22 to 2025-26 to lead reforms to palliative care. The total approximate recurrent annual spend on palliative care by 2025-26 is expected to be close to $250 million annually.

It’s important to remember that voluntary assisted dying isn’t something everyone will want to access. It is voluntary. It offers a safe and compassionate choice in addition to and complementing existing end of life care options already available. It will allow those already dying and eligible for the scheme to maintain independence, choice and control about their end of life.

If I live in a remote or regional area, will I be able to access voluntary assisted dying?

The scheme will ensure people living in regional, rural and remote parts of Queensland are supported and have fair and equitable access to voluntary assisted dying. This work will be undertaken during the scheme’s implementation phase.

Implementation and regulation

What is the Statewide Care Navigator Service?

The Statewide Care Navigator Service will be established as part of implementing the scheme. The service will provide information, education and support about the process, help individuals connect with appropriate practitioners and services and provide holistic advice and follow-up.

What is the Statewide Pharmacy Service?

The Statewide Pharmacy Service will be established during implementation to ensure the safe management of the voluntary assisted dying substance across Queensland. In addition to managing supply of the substance, it will also provide support about administration matters to the person accessing voluntary assisted dying, their contact person, loved ones and practitioners.

What is the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board?

A Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will be established during implementation to independently oversee the scheme, including monitoring and compliance with the Act.

The board will be responsible for reviewing completed voluntary assisted dying requests to ensure legal requirements have been met by all those involved. If required, the board will refer issues to relevant organisations such as the Commissioner of Police, State Coroner, chief executive of Queensland Health or Health Ombudsman. It will also undertake annual reporting for the scheme, identify systemic issues and build a knowledge base about voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.

Who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the law?

A Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will be established to undertake monitoring and compliance with the Act. Detail about this role is provided in the previous question.

Additionally, failure by a health professional to comply with the law may be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

What will happen if those taking part in the scheme don’t follow the law?

There are a number of safeguards built into the scheme and a range of provisions included in the law to capture unlawful conduct. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will be responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the law.

Offences include:

  • unauthorised administration of a voluntary assisted dying substance
  • inducing a person to request, or revoke a request for, voluntary assisted dying
  • inducing self-administration of a voluntary assisted dying substance
  • giving the Review Board false or misleading information
  • making a false or misleading statement
  • falsifying documents
  • recording or disclosing personal information
  • failing to give a copy of a document or form to the Review Board
  • failing to return a voluntary assisted dying substance for disposal.

Regulatory agencies that might be involved in compliance matters include the Health Ombudsman, Queensland Police Service, State Coroner’s Office and Queensland Health.

Refer to Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 Glossary of terms for explanations of key terms used within these Frequently asked questions.

Last updated: 17 September 2021