With the territories’ rights restored, parliament must now address telehealth problem, says RSA

Si Gladman / 04 December 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia welcomes the federal parliament’s lifting of a 25-year ban on the territories from legalising voluntary assisted dying but says further legislative changes will be needed in the new year to ensure fairness in accessibility for all Australians.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig applauded the parliament’s passing of the Restoring Territory Rights Bill last week, removing the federal ban – known as the ‘Andrews Bill’ – that had prevented territory parliaments from legalising assisted dying.

“The territories were once world leaders in assisted dying. Shamefully, the Andrews Bill has prevented them from acting in the interests of their communities for far too long,” she said.

“Last week’s outcome is a reward for the tireless efforts of many, including RSA Patron Rodney Symes, who died last year after decades of campaigning successfully for VAD.

“We hope that both territory governments will take the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the states and prioritise legislating for assisted dying in their jurisdictions.”

Although all states and territories could soon have assisted dying schemes in operation, laws that prevent medical practitioners from discussing end-of-life options over the phone or in an online meeting continue to prevent many terminally ill people from accessing assisted dying.

In a letter to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and health minister Mark Butler in early August, Dr Doig said current restrictions on the use of telehealth unfairly limited access to legal services for terminally ill Australians in regional, rural and remote areas.

The Commonwealth Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Material Offences) Act 2005 prevents or severely limits the use of telehealth in relation to assisted dying, making it a crime for doctors using a carriage service to support patients wishing to access it.

“Again, we urge the Albanese government and MPs across the parliament to work together to address this problem,” said Dr Doig.

With Queensland’s assisted dying scheme to begin operating next week, the state’s health department has developed a process to allow doctors to travel to patients for in-person visits.

The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said the measure was necessary while the federal restrictions on telehealth remained in place.

Dr Doig said all terminally ill Australians citizens, upon meeting eligibility requirements, should have access to assisted dying, regardless of whether they live in a rural or metropolitan area.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.