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Law-making about voluntary assisted dying must be based on reliable evidence

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The Queensland Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee will shortly deliver its report about voluntary assisted dying. The key question is whether or not the law should be changed to permit voluntary assisted dying. If the Committee recommends reform, its report will be part of a wider national trend towards permitting voluntary assisted dying. It is now legal in Victoria and the Western Australian law will start operation in mid-2021.

As researchers, we argue that decisions about whether to change the law to permit voluntary assisted dying (and what that law looks like) must be based on reliable evidence. In a recent article in the Australian Health Review, we noted that using evidence has gained less traction in law-making than in other fields like medicine and business. Yet using reliable evidence is vitally important for society so the best laws possible are enacted. This is particularly so on critical social policy issues like voluntary assisted dying.

But it is not just evidence that is needed: it must be reliable evidence. Working out what evidence is reliable and what is not can be challenging for voluntary assisted dying. There is so much information out there and both sides of the debate make conflicting claims. Our colleague, Professor Jocelyn Downie, has proposed an approach to weigh evidence and determine its reliablility (see the pyramid below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using this approach, we can say that the Dutch and Belgian research about rates of voluntary assisted dying over time would be reliable evidence. These studies examined large groups of people and have been subject to rigorous peer review through publication in top international journals. By contrast, media reports or anecdotes about one or a small number of instances of voluntary assisted dying are not reliable evidence.

The Queensland Parliament, followed by other parliaments around the country, will shortly be confronted with the question: should voluntary assisted dying be legalised? As parliamentarians consider their answer to this question, we argue that their deliberations must be informed by reliable evidence.

More information

The article in the Australian Health Review, ‘Evidence-based law making on voluntary assisted dying’ (2020) is available online on eprints. There is also a video animation explaining the article on eprints.

You can also watch an interview with Ben White about the importance of evidence-based law making on voluntary assisted dying.

Ben White and Lindy Willmott have also proposed a model Bill for how the law should be changed to permit and regulate voluntary assisted dying. This can also be viewed on eprints.

Finally, more information about end of life legal issues generally is available on the End of Life Law in Australia website.

About Ben White

Professor Ben White is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow (Professorial Level, 2020-2023) and a member of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research. His area of research focus is end-of-life decision making with a particular focus on voluntary assisted dying.

Ben’s research has had significant impact leading to changes in law, policy and practice. His work has been adopted by parliaments, courts and tribunals, and law reform commissions and has also influenced State and national end-of-life policy and prompted changes to clinical education in universities, hospitals and health departments.

You can learn more about Ben and his research and publications in his staff profile.

About Lindy Willmott

Lindy WillmottProfessor Lindy Willmott is a member of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research, and publishes extensively in the area of health law. Lindy specialises in end-of-life decision making and guardianship law.

Lindy’s research has had significant impact leading to changes in law, policy and practice. Her work has been adopted by parliaments, courts and tribunals, and law reform commissions and has also influenced State and national end-of-life policy and prompted changes to clinical education in universities, hospitals and health departments.

You can learn more about Lindy and her research and publications in her staff profile.

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