Opponents of Queensland’s proposed voluntary assisted dying laws have tabled 55 separate amendments to the bill ensuring there will be a protracted debate in the state parliament this week.
Many MPs shared emotional personal stories during Tuesday’s debate with packets of tissues passed around the Legislative Assembly.
The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, broke down as she spoke about her late mother’s suffering during her final years.
“My mother died of Alzheimer’s,” D’Ath said. “We had discussions about life and death. I know what she’d choose, she’d choose voluntary assisted dying.”
Under the Queensland draft legislation, voluntary assisted dying would be restricted to people with an advanced and progressive condition that caused intolerable suffering and was expected to cause death within a year.
The person must have decision-making capacity and would have to be separately and independently assessed by two doctors. They would then be required to make three separate requests over at least nine days.
Labor and Liberal National MPs have been granted a conscience vote. The bill is expected to pass with a comfortable majority but will first have to survive attempted changes.
VAD advocates and legal experts – who say the draft laws are “measured” and offer appropriate safeguards – have warned against wholesale changes that could upset that balance and create unworkable barriers to access.
The LNP deputy leader and shadow attorney general, David Janetzki, tabled 54 of the 55 amendments. They include proposed additional restrictions and measures that would allow faith-based healthcare facilities to block residents from accessing VAD.
The LNP leader, David Crisafulli, said the amendments were “trying to improve” the bill. But he said he would oppose it regardless of whether the changes were adopted.
“It breaks a fundamental tenet of society, that human life is sacrosanct,” Crisafulli said. “While my heart hurts for people suffering great pain ... I can’t support something that offers the assistance of the state to terminate their lives.”
The Katter’s Australia party leader, Robbie Katter, tabled an amendment seeking for the VAD bill to be immediately shelved until the government committed an additional $275m towards palliative care.
Katter argued that people in remote parts of Queensland “stare into a different looking future than perhaps if they had private healthcare in the middle of Brisbane”. His amendment was backed by many regional LNP MPs.
Katter is fundamentally opposed to VAD and says he won’t vote for the bill in any form.
D’Ath told parliament the move was a “stunt” that was “seeking to delay the introduction of voluntary assisted dying”.
Tim Nicholls, the former LNP opposition leader, said he would vote in favour of VAD. Nicholls was one of three opposition MPs to support the decriminalisation of abortion in 2018 and suffered threats of recrimination at the time.
“I believe fundamentally in the freedom of the individual,” Nicholls said. “It balances competing rights and where it must come to a conclusion, it does in the favour of the dying person.”
The deputy premier, Steven Miles, introduced the bill on Tuesday morning. He cited repeated surveys that showed about 80% support for VAD.
“Why make a rational adult who is begging to die quickly, die slowly instead?” Miles said.
David Muir, the chair of the Clem Jones Trust, which has been campaigning for VAD, hoped the amendments would not ultimately change the bill.
“When you start tinkering with a bill at such a late stage it could have unintended consequences,” Muir said. “Inevitably [the amendments] would only erode the rights of the terminally ill. Most of the amendments would be along those lines.”