ACT Euthanasia Laws to Give Nurses Green Light to Discuss Assisted Suicide With Patients

Nurses, social workers and counsellors will for the first time be able to initiate discussions about voluntary assisted dying as an option for terminally ill people in the ACT, under what will be the most liberal framework in the country if enshrined into law. The legislation, which the Labor-Greens government recently introduced to the ACT parliament, also elevates the position of nurses to play a role in conducting assessments of a patient’s eligibility and administering the life-ending medication. In another unprecedented move, the bill departs from the rules in other jurisdictions by allowing patients to access assisted suicide without having a predicted time of death of 12 months or less. Terminally ill people can access assisted suicide if doctors say they have fewer than six months to live in Victoria, Tasmania, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia, or 12 months in Queensland. Canberrans will need to have been diagnosed with a condition that is “advanced, progressive and expected to cause death”, be enduring intolerable suffering and to have lived in the ACT for a year or be able to demonstrate a “substantial connection” to the territory to access the scheme.

They will also be required to be at least 18 years old, after the ACT government shelved a proposal to abandon the “arbitrary” age cap in place in other jurisdictions by opening the scheme to minors. A disability, mental disorder or mental illness alone is not a relevant condition to qualify, as in other states. The ACT was given the green light to legalise euthanasia last year when federal parliament overturned laws banning territory governments from implementing euthanasia, which had been in place for more than two decades. ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne, who took carriage of the reforms, said the legislation protected the “autonomy and dignity” of Canberrans enduring intense suffering at the end of their lives. “We have consulted widely in developing our evidence-based model, which responds to the known issues in other jurisdictions and reflects the ACT’s unique circumstances, together with the Canberra community’s views,” she said.

“This is a historic day for Canberrans. With so many in the community supporting voluntary assisted dying, I am proud to have delivered this reform within a year of our Territory rights being restored” Cheyne said. The Barr government has the numbers to pass the legislation through the legislative assembly unamended. ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the Canberra Liberals would have a conscience vote on the laws, after it is reviewed by a committee of Legislative Assembly Members. Ms. Lee said the suggestion health professionals other than doctors could initiate conversations about assisted dying “raises some alarm bells”, as well as the rejection of any “time frame in relation to death”. Medical oncologist Cameron McLaren, who is the inaugural president of Voluntary Assisted Dying Australia and New Zealand, said doctors in Western Australia, Queensland, NSW and Tasmania could already initiate discussions about euthanasia as part of a broader conversation about a person‘s treatment and palliative care options. But the ACT‘s legislation marked the first-time nurses, social workers and counsellors could also start those discussions.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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