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Premier says loss of her own loved ones influenced her support for euthanasia laws

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s personal pain from losing her grandmother and uncle have influenced her support for proposed Voluntary Assisted Dying laws to be introduced into State Parliament next week.

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The Queensland Law Reform Commission drafted the laws for the Palaszczuk government, which today made them public ahead of their broader consideration by a committee.

Palaszczuk said MPs would have a debate and vote on the issue during the September sittings of parliament. If passed, the laws would be enacted in January 2023 – five months later than planned.

While she said a majority of Queenslanders supported VAD, she acknowledged some remained opposed to the concept. She spoke to church leaders before today’s announcement and revealed the QLRC had recommended doctors, speech pathologists and hospitals – such as church-run facilities – have the right to conscientiously object and opt out of any VAD regime.

Palaszczuk, who supports VAD, said her own views had been influenced by the death of her Nanna last year and the passing of her uncle, as well as Queenslanders lobbying for change.

While some doctors may opt out, others face up to 14 years jail if they bring on a patient’s death rather than allow the patient to decide if, and when, they go through with it.

The Premier was adamant Queenslanders should at least be given the choice to “die with dignity”.

“I don’t think it matters what religion you are because there are going to be some people who have their own views on this,” Palaszczuk said.

“I’m a Catholic, I’ve thought about this long and hard.”

Encouraging all Queenslanders to consider the issue, and contribute to the debate, Palaszczuk asked the media to “just be respectful of MPs, just give them time to have a look at this bill at well”. She would not comment on the likelihood of the laws being passed.

The Liberal National Party will, like Labor, give MPs a conscience vote, however leader David Crisafulli has yet to outline his intentions.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles, who will lead the last round of consultations, said the QLRC had included safeguards to ensure the only recipients of VAD are terminally-ill and dying, and choosing VAD with clear mind and free will.

“This is not about suicide, this is about voluntary assisted dying,” Miles said.

Two medical practitioners would be required to agree on a patient’s capacity, and eligibility, for VAD, with witnesses also required at various stages throughout the process.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said it was hoped VAD laws could be administered in such a way as to avoid patients being rejected by a doctor or hospital with a conscientious objection. She said a central nurse navigator system would allow people to seek advice on medical practitioners who could support their right to consider VAD.

The QLRC has given criteria that would require a VAD applicant to have been diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that: is advanced, progressive and will cause death; is expected to cause death within 12 months; and is causing suffering that the person considers to be intolerable.

A summary report emphasises “it is not a choice between life and death”.

“It is a choice for those who are dying to exercise some control over the timing and manner of their death,” the report states.

“This approach strikes the appropriate balance between the fundamental value of human life and the values of individual autonomy and reducing suffering.”

Reflecting on similar laws in Victoria, the QLRC noted that around a third of the people given approval did not bring on their death, perhaps reflecting “anecdotal reports that some people engage in the voluntary assisted dying assessment process to have administration as a fallback option at the very end of life”.

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