Members share views on draft VAD laws 

4 Mar 2021

Doctor's hands and stethoscope

More than 1,250 AMA Queensland members participated in a survey about Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation, which is being drafted by the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC).

AMA Queensland President Professor Chris Perry reiterated the survey was not a referendum on VAD.

“The AMA’s position is that doctors should not be involved in interventions that are intended to end a person’s life but, if the government decides to legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying, the medical profession must be involved in developing legislation, regulations and guidelines which protect doctors, vulnerable patients and the health system as a whole,” Professor Perry said.

“Just like the wider community, our members have broad, passionate and evolving opinions about Voluntary Assisted Dying and we wanted to dig into their views and concerns to help inform AMA Queensland’s response to the Queensland Law Reform Commission.”

Patient access
The survey questions covered issues such as access and eligibility for VAD, as well as safeguards for patients and doctors.

“A notable majority of the respondents said Voluntary Assisted Dying should be restricted to patients over 18 years who are resident of Queensland for at least 12 months, have an incurable disease and be experiencing intolerable suffering,” Professor Perry said.

“There was broad agreement that patients in rural and remote areas should have equitable access to VAD, and that patients with disability and patients with a diagnosed mental illness should be able to access VAD.”

Seventy per cent of respondents said VAD services should be wholly funded by the state.

Doctor involvement
Most respondents said eligibility for a VAD scheme should be assessed by two experienced doctors, independent of each other, with referral to a separate expert if those doctors cannot determine whether the patient is acting voluntarily. More than 70 per cent of respondents did not support nurse practitioners being able to assess a patient’s eligibility to access the VAD scheme.

“Importantly, 98 per cent of doctors felt that palliative care should be offered at the same time or prior to assessment for Voluntary Assisted Dying,” Professor Perry said.

“Sadly, palliative care services in Queensland are tremendously and historically under-funded.

“While VAD laws would apply to a less than two per cent of Queenslanders, most of us will depend on a properly funded palliative care service to have a pain-free and dignified death.”

Two-thirds of surveyed doctors felt their colleagues should have the right to conscientiously object to participating in a VAD scheme and 74 per cent said that those who did not take part in a VAD scheme should refer the patient to another doctor. 

Patient autonomy was a key consideration, with 82 per cent of respondents believing that VAD patients should decide if the life-ending medication is self-administered.

Read the survey results here.

Published: 4 Mar 2021