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Legal obligations for all medical practitioners

Medical practitioners can choose not to participate in the voluntary assisted dying process, but all medical practitioners have obligations under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 (the Act). These are:

  1. Initiating a discussion—providing specific information if the medical practitioner initiates a conversation about voluntary assisted dying with a person.
  2. Responding to a first request—following a set process when receiving a first request for access to voluntary assisted dying.
  3. Completing a cause of death certificate—following mandatory steps when completing a Cause of Death Medical Certificate (death certificate) for a person who died by accessing voluntary assisted dying.

Initiating a discussion about voluntary assisted dying

Only medical practitioners and nurse practitioners can initiate a discussion about voluntary assisted dying if, at the same time, they inform the person about available:

  • treatment options and likely outcomes
  • palliative care treatment and support options and likely outcomes of this care.

If a person raises voluntary assisted dying, all medical practitioners can provide information and answer questions if they feel comfortable and informed to do so.

If a medical practitioner has a conscientious objection and does not wish to provide information, they must provide the person with:

If a person raises voluntary assisted dying

From 1 January 2023, medical practitioners must follow legislated requirements under the Act if a person requests to start the voluntary assisted dying process (the first request).

If it is a general enquiry, explore the topic with respect and consideration to better understand what support the person may need and their preferences for end-of-life care.

Examples

"Tell me more about that."
"How is your pain level? What are your other concerns?"

If a person asks a medical practitioner for information about voluntary assisted dying, the practitioner should consider their response to best support the person. They should:

  • listen and respectfully acknowledge what the person says
  • consider if this is the right time and place, and if the medical practitioner can continue the conversation
  • avoid discussing the person’s eligibility unless this is within the practitioner’s scope of practice
  • record conversations about voluntary assisted dying in the person’s medical record, including any referrals made.

Learn more about how medical practitioners can participate in voluntary assisted dying.

Medical practitioners can refuse to participate in any part of voluntary assisted dying for any reason, including:

  • a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying
  • not having the appropriate skills or training to be involved in the process
  • not being available to assist the person with the process.

The Act includes provisions for medical practitioners who don’t want to participate in the voluntary assisted dying process. However, they must provide the person with information to enable them to access voluntary assisted dying, including:

  • information about a health practitioner, provider, or service they believe is likely to be able to assist; or
  • the Queensland Voluntary Assisted Dying Support Service (QVAD-Support) contact details.

Responding to a first request

A first request is a when a person asks a medical practitioner for access to voluntary assisted dying.

The person does not have to use the term 'voluntary assisted dying', but the person must be clear about what they’re asking. People can make this request verbally or by other means of communication available to them, such as gestures.

If a person makes a first request to a medical practitioner to access voluntary assisted dying, all medical practitioners must follow a set process to comply with the Act.

Medical practitioners don’t need to have completed the mandatory training to accept a first request, however, they must complete the mandatory training and be endorsed as a voluntary assisted dying practitioner before starting the first assessment.

Examples

"I want to access voluntary assisted dying."
"I don't want to go on like this. I want to end it all. Can I get medicine to die?"
"I would like to die on my own terms. How can I access voluntary assisted dying?"
"I want euthanasia. Can you help me?"

A first request for voluntary assisted dying must be:

  • clear and unambiguous
  • made by the person and not by another person on their behalf.

The request will ordinarily be made to the medical practitioner during a medical consultation. This may be in in person or via telehealth.

The request should be made at a time and place when the medical practitioner and the person can have a sensitive conversation about the person’s care and treatment options, such as during a medical consultation or a house call. If a person raises voluntary assisted dying with the medical practitioner in an informal setting, the practitioner should suggest arranging a more appropriate time for the discussion.

Process for responding to a first request

flowchart of how to respond to a first request

Completing a cause of death certificate

From 1 January 2023, medical practitioners who complete a death certificate for a person who they know or reasonably believe died through voluntary assisted dying in accordance with the Act, must:

  1. Not include any reference to voluntary assisted dying in the cause of death certificate.
  2. State in the cause of death certificate that the cause of death was the disease, illness, or medical condition from which the person suffered.
  3. Notify the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, by completing and submitting the relevant form via the Queensland Voluntary Assisted Dying Information Management System (QVAD-IMS) within 2 business days of becoming aware the person has died.
Further details about QVAD-IMS forms will be available in the coming months. Subscribe to receive updates on voluntary assisted dying in Queensland.
Last updated: 9 June 2022