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Legislative Options to Address Institutional Objections to Voluntary Assisted Dying in Australia


Ben P White, Lindy Willmott, Eliana Close and Jocelyn Downie

Voluntary assisted dying is being considered by parliaments and law reform bodies across Australia. Although individual conscientious objection is routinely considered in these deliberations, an institution’s desire to object to providing voluntary assisted dying has received very little attention. After briefly considering the concept of institutional objection in voluntary assisted dying, this article examines the available (albeit limited) Australian evidence on this practice. Institutional objection is happening in Victoria (where voluntary assisted dying is lawful) and is likely to occur in other Australian states. The article proposes that regulation is needed and presents three models for parliaments and law reformers to consider. The first is ‘conscientious absolutism’, which grants institutions unrestricted ability to object to voluntary assisted dying. The second is a ‘compromise or reasonable accommodation’ model, which aims to accommodate both institutional objection and a person’s wish to access voluntary assisted dying. Different balances can be struck; we propose a model that prioritises a patient’s interests. The third model is ‘non-toleration’, which would refuse to allow an institution to object at all. While there can be debate about the optimal model, the issue of institutional objection to voluntary assisted dying must be addressed.

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