Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Voluntary Assisted Dying

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (17:47): My adjournment matter is for the attention of the Minister for Health in the other place, the Honourable Martin Foley. My matter concerns the conflict between the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 and the commonwealth Criminal Code, resulting in the prohibition of VAD services by telehealth, including phone call, video link and email. Former senator Derryn Hinch is one of the most vocal public figures in support of the legislated dying with dignity scheme, and we therefore commend the government on making this a reality in Victoria. However, there have been a few bumps along the road since its introduction. One that I have raised previously is the inaccessibility of people from rural areas to see specialists in order to satisfy the safeguards of the legislation. However, another highlighted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic is the prohibition of using telehealth to provide permissions and advice to those wanting to take part in the voluntary assisted dying scheme. This is because medical professionals are worried about the possibility of conflicting with the federal Criminal Code, which states that you cannot use an electronic carriage service to directly or indirectly counsel or incite someone to end their life. By way of background, all medical practitioners who have trained to provide VAD care were contacted by the VAD review board personally and advised that they were not allowed to provide any aspect of VAD care via a carriage service. This meant that all consultations had to be face to face, causing an extraordinary burden on both patients and doctors. This also became effectively impossible during the height of the pandemic, so doctors have been technically breaking the law with every phone call related to VAD care, facing the possibility of legal action and even theoretically jail. This interpretation of the law came from somewhere within the Department of Health and Human Services; however, the commonwealth Criminal Code refers to suicide, whereas voluntary assisted dying is a lawful medical option available to a small number after very strict scrutiny. A VAD death is not recorded as suicide, and many articles have been written also describing why VAD is different to and not considered suicide. The leading legal opinion here in Victoria in Robert Richter had reached the same conclusion, as had the Western Australian Attorney-General. Providing VAD care is complex enough as it is, and there are still too few doctors trained. The prohibition on telehealth is just another barrier but one that I believe can be removed. I believe Minister Foley wrote to the federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, about this matter, and I would appreciate being kept updated of any reply and its substance. But for now, the action that I seek is for the minister to confirm, according to the voluntary assisted dying legislation, that our medical professionals will not be prosecuted for providing the voluntary assisted dying service via telehealth.


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