Eligible terminally ill Australians living in the nation’s capital could soon access voluntary assisted dying, with the government introducing a landmark Bill in the ACT legislative assembly today.
In recent years, VAD has become legal in all six Australian states. However, the ACT and Northern Territory were unable to enact voluntary assisted dying laws until last year. The 25-year ban was finally overturned following the successful passage of the Restoring Territory Rights Act 2022 in the Senate, with the landmark decision clearing the path for the territories to, once again, establish their own VAD laws.
The proposed VAD model in the ACT requires that eligible individuals must be 18 years or older, have a condition in an advanced, progressive state expected to result in death, endure intolerable suffering, and have lived in the ACT for a minimum of 12 months. They must also seek VAD voluntarily with decision-making capacity throughout the process. Like states across Australia, eligible individuals will need to undergo a multi-step request and assessment process, including being examined by two independent health professionals.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr described the introduction of the Bill as a historic day for territory rights.
“It’s been a long journey for the ACT to be in the position to introduce voluntary assisted dying legislation,” Mr Barr said.
“It’s the result of years of advocacy for equal rights – and I thank every Canberran who has supported the campaign for equality with the states.”
ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Chyene said the proposed Bill, developed with wide consultation, was about people, choice, autonomy, and dignity at end-of-life.
“We know that even with the best end-of-life care, some Canberrans with an advanced condition, illness or disease can experience intolerable suffering near the end of their lives,” she said.
“To promote the autonomy and dignity of these people, the ACT Government has considered how to approach and regulate access to voluntary assisted dying.”
VAD advocacy group Go Gentle Australia welcomed the introduction of the Bill, saying, if passed, it would give eligible terminally ill people the choice to end their suffering on their terms, bringing the ACT in line with the rest of the country.
“It is a safe and compassionate draft law with rigorous safeguards, and it brings the ACT in line with the rest of Australia,” Go Gentle CEO, Dr Linda Swan, said.
“It is only 11 months since the federal government restored the ACT’s right to make its own decisions about VAD. We commend the government for moving quickly to draft a Bill that allows this debate to happen.”
The Bill adopts an evidence-based approach and has benefited from broad consultation with the public and the healthcare community, which has enabled it to strike the right balance between the right safeguards and ensuring eligible people face as few barriers as possible to access the law, Dr Swan added. For example, the ACT Government has not included a timeframe to death as part of its eligibility criteria.
Go Gentle founding director Andrew Denton, who helped elevate VAD legislation into the national spotlight, urged ACT politicians to put aside personal ideologies in the upcoming debate and instead rely on the evidence from across Australia before them, where VAD laws have been successfully operating for over four years.
“This evidence shows that VAD is operating safely and as intended, and that it has made a significant difference to the final months, weeks and days of those who have chosen it. This should give MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) the reassurance they need to give dying people in the ACT the same choice at the end of life as other Australians,” Mr Denton said.