Push to expand assisted dying treatment to telehealth

A bid to protect doctors from prosecution for providing voluntary assisted dying care over the phone has been launched by Independent MP Kate Chaney.

Ms Chaney introduced a private member's bill to parliament on Monday which would rewrite the criminal code allowing for medical professionals to provide voluntary assisted dying services through telehealth, phone or text.

Under the code, people are banned from using a carriage service to promote suicide, which the Federal Court ruled in 2023 also extended to voluntary assisted dying services.

Ms Chaney said the new bill would make access for voluntary assisted dying treatment more equitable.

"(The current laws) means that people who are terminally ill and suffering and have the rights to VAD services have to travel for face-to-face appointments," she told parliament on Monday.

"Even worse, patients that rely on telehealth services due to distance or discomfort don't have equal access to end of life services that are supposed to be available to anyone who qualifies."

Ms Chaney said the criminal code barring people from advocating or promoting suicide was put in place in 2005, as am attempt to crack down on cyber bullying.

She said since then, every Australian state had introduced laws allowing voluntary assisted dying, with the new legislation making it clear that such treatment was not suicide.

"There's a huge difference between the act of a desperate person who takes their life because they see no way out, and a rational decision made a by a terminally ill person enduring intolerable suffering," she said,

"Voluntary assisted dying is not a choice between life and death, it's a choice between a painful, drawn out death, or a peaceful death with dignity."

Cameron McLaren from Voluntary Assisted Dying Australia and New Zealand said the changes were long overdue.

“Telehealth assessments for VAD eligibility continue to be conducted in New Zealand, and other jurisdictions around the world with no evidence to suggest that this jeopardises patient safety," Dr McLaren said.

"Every voluntary assisted dying review board in the country has recommended allowing telehealth assessments for VAD eligibility."

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