Voluntary assisted dying appears set to be legalised in Tasmania

Voluntary assisted dying looks set to be legalised in Tasmania, after a bill passed the lower house tonight. Bass Liberal MHA Sarah Courtney (left) took carriage of the legislation, which independent Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney (right) introduced in the upper house last year.
Voluntary assisted dying looks set to be legalised in Tasmania, after a bill passed the lower house tonight. Bass Liberal MHA Sarah Courtney (left) took carriage of the legislation, which independent Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney (right) introduced in the upper house last year.

Voluntary assisted dying is all but certain to be legalised in Tasmania, after the state's lower house passed a bill last night.

Following a sometimes testy debate held over three days, a majority of MHAs voted in support of the legislation late yesterday - which Bass Liberal MHA Sarah Courtney took carriage of in the House of Assembly - with a final vote of 16 in favour and six against.

The bill, heavily amended by the lower house, still needs to return to the Legislative Council for approval.

Premier Peter Gutwein said the debate had represented "parliament at its best", and acknowledged those of his Liberal colleagues who voted against the bill, saying "it takes courage to stand by your own convictions".

Both Liberal and Labor members were permitted a conscience vote on the bill, meaning they weren't expected to toe the party line.

Should MLCs wave through the amendments in the upper house, Tasmania will become the third state to legalise voluntary assisted dying, after Victoria and Western Australia.

Opposition Leader Rebecca White said she was confident the bill would pass the parliament due to "the work we've done over the last three days".

Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said the lower house had worked together to strengthen the legislation, adding, "We've done a very good thing today".

Independent Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney introduced the bill in the upper house last year, where it eventually received unanimous support.

Under the legislation, a person would be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying if they were aged 18 or over, met residency requirements, had decision-making capacity, were acting voluntarily and were suffering intolerably from a relevant medical condition.

It's been estimated the legislation would cost about $2.4 million a year to administer once fully operational from 2023.

Mr Gutwein, who voted in favour of the bill, had a panel of legal, health and public policy experts from the University of Tasmania review the proposed laws during the parliament's summer recess.

Published last week, the review found the proposed laws were among the "most rigorous" of their kind but also suggested a number of amendments.

Opponents of the legislation felt that not enough time had elapsed between when the review was handed down and when the bill was brought on for debate in the lower house, believing that it was being rushed through the parliament without sufficient public consultation.

Thanking the Premier for allowing Liberal members like himself a conscience vote, Lyons MHA Guy Barnett said he was "deeply disappointed with the outcome" of the debate.

"I believe the bill ... has been rushed," he said. "I believe it is confusing, ambiguous and flawed."

"I do fear for the elderly, the vulnerable, people with disability and those that are sick.

"Time will tell in terms of the ... flaws in the bill."

An amendment to introduce a conscientious objection provision for entities such as hospitals and aged care homes uncomfortable with facilitating the service of voluntary assisted dying failed to garner the requisite support in the lower house earlier this week.

We've done a very good thing today.

Cassy O'Connor, Greens leader

Meanwhile, an effort by Ms Cassy O'Connor to remove prognostic timeframes from the bill also failed.

Last night, members debated an amendment to disallow people seeking to access voluntary assisted dying from having telehealth consultations with their general practitioner.

It was moved by Ms Courtney, after she received departmental advice that having a telehealth provision in the bill could put GPs at risk of breaching the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

However, some MHAs were at pains to point out that the federal government had written to the Western Australian government, which passed voluntary assisted dying laws in late 2019, to inform it that it wouldn't seek prosecutions in such contexts.

Members including Ms O'Connor, Ms White and Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff spoke against the amendment, saying it would disadvantage people living in regional and remote parts of the state.

The amendment was ultimately defeated.

This story Euthanasia set to be legalised in Tasmania first appeared on The Examiner.