Church-run aged care homes in Queensland must allow VAD for residents on their premises

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The Voluntary Assisted Dying bill before the Queensland Parliament, which is certain to become law, will force church-run aged care homes to allow euthanasia on their premises.

Catholic Health Australia, which provides 10,000 hospital beds and 25,000 aged-care places across the country, and the Catholic-aligned Southern Cross Care Queensland, which has 11 aged care homes and five retirement villages, have both stated publicly it would be unwilling to offer VAD. We reported on Catholic Health Australia’s submission.

The legislation before the Queensland Parliament provided an institutional ability to object, with the patient required to be transferred to a facility that does offer VAD.

However, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the objection can be over-ridden and explained how.

“In some situations, requiring an individual to leave their home and transfer to a different hospice, when they’re close to death and in great pain, would subject them to pain and distress or deny them access to voluntary assisted dying,” he told the Queensland Media Club. “It’s important the voluntary assisted dying scheme provides all Queenslanders who are suffering and dying with equal end-of-life choices, irrespective of where they live.”

That means if the aged care resident at a church-run facility is too frail or too sick to be moved and requests and is allowed VAD, then a doctor or nurse practitioner must be allowed to perform euthanasia.

Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, The Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, said Mr Miles’ remarks were disappointing but unsurprising.

“The Deputy Premier’s position in this debate is now clear. He may have carriage of the Bill, but we hope that the government can still see the need to respect the right of conscientious objection,” Dr Coleridge said.

The Bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee where the churches hope it can be amended in line with the recently-enacted laws in South Australia that enshrine the right of faith-based organisations to opt out.

Mr Miles said the application of conscientious objection was one of the most controversial parts of the legislation in attempting to balance the rights of institutions and individuals.

“I think we need to remember that these people are, in most cases, paying to live there, or the federal government is paying these institutions for them to live there. It is their home, they probably didn’t get much choice in where they ended up.”