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Telehealth ban for voluntary assisted dying needs to end now says LIV

Telehealth ban for voluntary assisted dying needs to end now says LIV

By LIV Media


Victorians are being denied access to Voluntary Assisted Dying because of a ban on telehealth consultations, according to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).

LIV President Tania Wolff urged the federal government to immediately amend legislation to remove the current exposure to a Commonwealth offence which is preventing end of life discussions via telehealth between patients and qualified doctors about voluntary assisted dying.

“The lack of legal clarity as to whether Victorian health practitioners can discuss voluntary assisted dying over the telephone, via email or through the use of telehealth, has left some patients effectively without any options, particularly in remote areas,” says Ms Wolff.

“This has essentially hampered the effectiveness of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic).”

In September 2020, the LIV wrote several letters to government bodies seeking urgent clarification on whether Victorian health practitioners who discuss voluntary assisted dying with patients via a carriage service may be in breach of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

This followed advice from the Victorian Department of Health (formerly DHHS) that this could be a breach of sections 474.29A and 474.29B of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which prohibits a person using a carriage service 'for suicide-related material'.

As of April 2021, the Federal Government was reported as saying it “has no plans to amend the suicide-related material offences in the Criminal Code ”.

The LIV, Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Dying with Dignity Victoria (DWDV) remain deeply concerned about the lack of clarity and exposure for medical practitioners supporting the needs of patients, particularly in remote areas or extreme circumstances.

Betty King, Chairperson of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board has stated that there are only a limited number of GP’s trained to consult on voluntary assisting dying in regional Victoria.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how technologies can vastly improve access to justice, as well as access to health services, particularly for people living in remote areas,” said Ms Wolff.

“This is not just a problem for Victoria. The Commonwealth Criminal Code applies in every State and Territory. As more jurisdictions pass voluntary assisting dying legislation they too will be confronted with this unnecessary and discriminatory obstacle,” Ms Wolff added.

“The Federal Government must urgently make an exemption from the Commonwealth Criminal Code to allow health practitioners to discuss voluntary assisting dying with their patients in all settings, irrespective of the patient’s geographical location. The telehealth ban for voluntary assisted dying needs to end now.”

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