Doctors urge immediate reform to Commonwealth Criminal Code to ensure equitable access to voluntary assisted dying
1 December 2023
The Federal Court has ruled there is no current delineation in federal law between voluntary assisted dying (VAD) and suicide – meaning that if doctors use telecommunications to transmit information to patients about VAD, they could be found in breach of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act and face criminal charges.
VADANZ (Voluntary Assisted Dying Australia and New Zealand) president Dr Cameron McLaren said the ruling has ended more than four years of uncertainty.
“The ruling confirms suspicions that doctors are placing themselves at legal risk by offering a particular health care service in a way that is perfectly reasonable in ALL other areas of health.
“VAD services around the country are awaiting legal advice about whether they can continue to offer their services in their current format.
“The repercussions for terminally ill people who are too ill to travel to in-person consultations, and patients in rural, regional and remote areas, is significant.
“It is clear that health care, which in Australia is determined by the States, has evolved since 2005, and the Commonwealth Criminal Code needs to mature in-kind.
“We call upon federal MPs to listen to the expert voices and not those with vested interests in stifling access to VAD. It is important to note that in every Australian state in which VAD is active (Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia, and Queensland), the respective Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Boards have all recommended allowing VAD eligibility assessments through telehealth.
“We now need the federal parliament to act to provide us with legislative protection to continue to uphold the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights that says all patients have rights to information and to access healthcare that is relevant to their needs.
“VADANZ acknowledges that there are distinct advantages in conducting VAD assessments in person, and this remains the preferred method for at least one, if not both of the VAD eligibility assessment.
“However, telemedicine can help facilitate equitable access to VAD and other health care in Australia, particularly in rural, regional and remote areas.
“This is particularly the case for patients who are by definition within the last months of their lives and too unwell to travel comfortably for assessments and who may not be in an area where home visits can be arranged.
“Telemedicine has resulted in significant improvement in access for regional and rural patients to specialist care, and is practiced in other sensitive areas such as psychiatry, sexual medicine, fertility counselling, and termination of pregnancy. Doctors are entrusted to be responsible for determining the most appropriate form of consultation in all of these areas. There is no reason that this inconsistency should continue.”
Media contact: Dr Cameron McLaren, firstname.lastname@example.org
Voluntary Assisted Dying Australia and New Zealand is the peak body representing multidisciplinary healthcare professionals providing voluntary assisted dying services in Australia and New Zealand. Our vision is a healthcare system where health professionals are supported to provide excellence in voluntary assisted dying care. Our purpose as a peak body is to represent the voices of health care professionals so they can deliver evidence-based, high quality voluntary assisted dying care.