In the last few years, a major shift in political thinking has seen most Australian jurisdictions – bar those that lack the statutory power to do so – adopt some form of voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation.

First Victoria in 2019, followed by Western Australia in 2021; and more recently Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia, who are in the process of implementing their version of the laws.

Given this shift, experts say it is increasingly likely that New South Wales will soon follow suit. In fact, a VAD bill has already passed the state’s lower house, with a report from the parliamentary committee expected in the next few weeks.

With VAD laws varying significantly between states, how might the prospective legislation in NSW take shape?

Ben White, a Professor of End-of-Life Law and Regulation at the Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, says there may be important differences in terms of protocols, access timeframes, and optionality.

Ahead of the 31st Annual Medico Legal Congress hosted by Informa Connect he gives a brief insight.

Access timeframes

“One key difference between VAD laws across jurisdictions is the timeframe until death that people living with terminal illness would need to meet to be able to access VAD services,” said Prof White.

“Queensland allows people who are terminally ill to access VAD when their life expectancy is twelve months or less. For other states, this access timeframe is six months, except for neurodegenerative conditions, where it is twelve months.

“It is anticipated that NSW will mirror the usual Australian position – generally six months but twelve for neurodegenerative conditions.”

Permits

“All Australian states have strict protocols which require practitioners to make a number of reports to their local VAD review board,” said White. “However, some jurisdictions, such as Victoria, also require practitioners to apply for a VAD permit.

“The NSW Bill will follow a similar approach requiring an application for an ‘authorisation’ to provide VAD.”

Objections by institutions to providing VAD

“In Victoria and Western Australia, objections by institutions to VAD is dealt with by policy only. This means if an institution doesn’t want to provide VAD, they are not obliged to.

“However, in Queensland and South Australia, this is dealt with in the legislation; and in some instances, institutions may be required to allow access to VAD on their premises, or allow people to be transferred out,” said White.

In NSW, the proposed VAD Bill would expressly deal with the issue of institutional objection.

Ben White is a Professor of End-of-Life Law and Regulation at the Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology.

Hear more from him about the technicalities of VAD legislation between jurisdictions and what is expected for NSW, at the Medico Legal Congress, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held virtually and in-person at the Swissotel Sydney on 15-16 March.

Learn more and register.