QUEENSLAND Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has wiped euthanasia from her government’s legislative agenda for this term – announcing in parliament that a scheme to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill needs “further, careful consideration”.
The Premier’s decision means voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation will not go before lawmakers before Queensland heads to the polls on October 31.
Instead, Ms Palaszczuk has asked for draft legislation backed by the committee to be sent to Queensland’s Law Reform Commission for review, and for the commission to report back to the government by March 1, 2021.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the Premier’s decision was wise, although not unexpected, especially in light of the statewide efforts to save lives throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was always a dark irony that you would even contemplate legislating VAD when the COVID-19 crisis is casting the shadow of death across the planet – particularly to the most vulnerable,” he said.
“Thankfully the Premier has put a temporary halt to legislation.
“The Parliamentary Health committee’s report tabled in late March also found that the provision of palliative care to Queenslanders was severely lacking.
“This is where the focus should now be.
“The State needs to consider health reform to address a health issue before it considers law reform to address a health issue.”
In March, the government’s health committee recommended VAD legislation be debated in parliament, following a year long inquiry into aged care, end-of-life, palliative care and voluntary assisted dying.
“Voluntary assisted dying is a very complex and deeply personal issue, in which competing interests and views of Queenslanders and experts have to be carefully balanced, and the lives of our elderly and the most vulnerable people protected,” Ms Palaszczuk told parliament.
“It is absolutely critical that the government’s final response to the committee reports is informed by the views and experiences of aged care and palliative care providers.
“We need to give the sector and community time to consider the reports in detail and we know that the focus in these areas is currently on addressing the risk of COVID-19.”
Archbishop Coleridge said if MPs consider the health committee report “more deeply” they would be more supportive of the types of care on offer by Queensland’s medical system, “already doing such a great job in the pandemic”.
“A ‘care first’ approach is always going to be the better response to the statewide lack of access to palliative care revealed by the Parliamentary Health Committee Final Report, tabled back in March.
“With the advancements in health over the last 20 years there is a strong likelihood that a properly funded holistic Palliative Care system would soon make calls for VAD legislation redundant,” he said.
Speaking in parliament, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles said “the Palaszczuk Government has already made strengthening and expanding palliative care a priority”.
Mr Miles said the government would boost funding to increase access and to improve palliative care services, especially in rural Queensland.
“We ask hospital and health services to champion services that will increase access to palliative care services in local communities and support Queenslanders to stay close to home and out of hospital at the end of their lives if that’s what they wish,” he said.
Queensland Cherish Life executive director Teeshan Johnson said the state had to overcome a glaring palliative care deficit.
“This gross neglect needs to be addressed urgently,” she said.
Ms Johnson said any VAD laws would be dangerous in Queensland that already had “a massive suicide problem”.
Queensland’s VAD proposal would allow people aged 18 years and older to seek an assisted death if they were diagnosed by a medical practitioner as having an advanced and progressive terminal illness, or neurodegenerative condition.
The Archdiocese of Brisbane will continue to keep a close eye on events for the remainder of this term and into the next parliament, as proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide will ensure it remains a contested issue both before and well beyond the State election.