Voluntary assisted dying legislation presents problems for interpreters

Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation enacted in Victoria, WA and Queensland is subject to periodical revision and will need to be revised to address the problems created by lawmakers’ failure to consult with translators and interpreters.

Voluntary assisted dying legislation became law in WA on 1 July 2021. It has taken a year, but thanks to positive engagement by the WA branch of TIA with the Department of Health, misunderstandings about the role of interpreters have been resolved. Amendments made to guidelines for clinicians and information sheets for the general public and interpreters make it clear that interpreters are engaged to impartially serve the communication needs of both patients and clinical staff, and not to ‘assist patients’. In accordance with the WA Language Services Policy 2020, interpreters may possess either a formal qualification or NAATI credential and preferably both, and they must be briefed and given the opportunity to decline to interpret for VAD processes. Interpreters are also able to access immediate debriefing from the Care Navigator Service if they are distressed by any part of the process for which they have interpreted. The one matter with which interpreters are unable to comply is the requirement in the Act for interpreters to ‘translate and certify’ written declarations. After representations from TIA, the Minister for Health has recommended that the WA legislation be revised next year.