As of November 28, eligible people in New South Wales can request “voluntary assisted dying”. NSW was the last Australian state to legalise assisted suicide in May 2022. There was an 18-month implementation period.
Two territories (which have a different status in the federation), the Australian Capital Territory, where Canberra is located, and the Northern Territory, are lagging behind, but will probably pass legislation in the near future.
The NSW law is quite similar to legislation in other Australian states. But there are some differences. Each state seems to have made successively the process a bit easier:
- people can choose between taking the medication themselves or having the medication administered by a qualified health professional. In other states, administration by health professionals is more limited.
- all health-care workers can raise the option of voluntary assisted dying with the person, provided they also inform the person about palliative care and other treatment options.
- nurse practitioners, not just doctors, can administer the lethal medication
- non-participating facilities are obliged to facilitate access, including allowing health professionals to enter the facility to provide information. Residential facilities must also allow health professionals to attend to assess for eligibility or administer the medication. In other cases, facilities may be required to transfer the person elsewhere for this to occur.
- the usual waiting period between first and final requests for voluntary assisted dying has been shortened to five days (compared with seven days in Tasmania and nine days in other states).
Although the law came into operation only this week, there are already complaints that barriers to access are too high. According to the NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, a Commonwealth law which prohibits discussion of suicide on telephones, email or the internet is “a massive issue”. “It requires, often, patients to travel, sometimes many hours, to doctors … and that journey can be both distressing and arduous,” she told the ABC. “Alternatively, it requires practitioners, busy practitioners, including medical specialists, to sometimes travel for hours and hours to go and visit a patient.”