Overwhelming support for Compassion as VAD passes SA House of Assembly

Voluntary Assisted Dying has now passed through both chambers of the South Australian Parliament, and there is now one final step before it becomes law.

The House of Assembly voted 33 to 11, at 1.32am on June 10, to support the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill first tabled by Hon Kyam Maher in December 2020.

The South Australian VAD Bill is similar to the VAD Act (2017) in Victoria, with additional safeguards introduced during debate in the Legislative Council on May 5 and the House of Assembly on June 9 and 10.

The six hour HOA debate was led with enormous care and understanding by Dr Susan Close, Labor's Deputy Leader. The debate was at all times respectful and dignified, with the galleries being filled with supporters, many of whom had relatives and friends who would have used VAD if it had been available, and others who may wish to use it in the near future. 

Closing speeches paid tribute to the decades of advocacy work by VADSA and the strong support in the community for a compassionate choice to end suffering at the end of life.

Hansard for the six hour debate is available here.

Additional safeguards to the 68 in the Victorian VAD Act include distinguishing between palliative care and voluntary assisted dying, ensuring a family member cannot be one of the VAD assessing doctors and further requirements to ensure the request is voluntary. 

A significant amendment passed by the House of Assembly, which will now go back to the Legislative Council for final consideration, is a provision which allows faith based institutions to conscientiously object to allowing VAD on their premises. The amendments define health and residential facilities in two separate categories and places different requirements in relation to the provision of VAD to each category. 

Private hospitals, usually seen as short stay facilities, will not be required to participate in any aspect of the voluntary assisted dying process if the management of the institution determines that it has a conscientious objection to VAD. The institution will need to inform potential patients of the prohibition before they are admitted, and if a person decides they wish to request VAD after admission, the institution will need to take reasonable steps to facilitate a transfer to a different facility where VAD is permitted.

Residential Aged Care and Nursing Homes owned or operated by a faith based organisation which has a conscientious objection to VAD will operate under different rules. Commonwealth law defines residential aged care as a person's home, and institutions which determine that they have a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying will not be permitted to interfere in any process associated with a VAD request in the resident's home. The institution must allow access for medical practitioners and pharmacists to process a VAD request, although the staff of the institution will not be required to participate. The institution will also need to facilitate the transfer of a person to and from a VAD related appointment, or ensure the activity can occur on the premises if the transfer would cause detriment to the person.

The requirements in relation to Residential Aged Care are similar to provisions in the Queensland Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.

The Legislative Council is expected to consider all amendments passed by the House of Assembly on June 23, which would be the final stage of debate.