Voluntary assisted dying, also known as voluntary euthanasia, is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated for many years in Australia. In recent times, there has been a growing interest and discussion about the legal, ethical, and practical aspects of voluntary assisted dying in the country.
This comprehensive guide aims to provide a thorough overview of voluntary assisted dying, covering legal framework, eligibility and criteria, process and much more.
Legal framework for voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales.
The Parliament of New South Wales passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2022 (the Act) on 19 May 2022. The Act will allow eligible people the choice to access voluntary assisted dying in NSW from 28 November 2023.
NSW Health is working to prepare for voluntary assisted dying to become available in NSW within 18 months. This includes establishing an Implementation Committee to oversee the implementation of the Act and to provide expert guidance.
Eligibility and criteria for voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales.
To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales, there are strict criteria that must be met. Different states have slightly different eligibility, however eligible adults must be mentally competent, have a terminal illness that is expected to cause death within a specified timeframe, experience intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved, and make voluntary and informed requests for assistance to die.
These criteria are designed to ensure that only individuals who are genuinely suffering and near the end of life can access voluntary assisted dying.
The Act states that people in New South Wales will only be able to receive access to voluntary assisted dying if they meet all of the following criteria:
- aged 18 years or over;
- an Australian citizen, a permanent resident of Australia or have been resident in Australia for at least three continuous years.
- living in NSW for at least 12 months. A residency exemption may be granted if the person has a substantial connection to New South Wales and there are compassionate grounds for granting it.
- have decision-making capacity;
- acting voluntarily and without coercion;
- have the ability to make and communicate requests and decisions about voluntary assisted dying throughout the formal request process.
- have a disease, illness or medical condition that is:
- advanced and progressive
- expected to cause death within six months, or 12 months for a person with a neurodegenerative disease, illness or medical condition.
- causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a way that the person finds tolerable. The person’s suffering may be physical or non-physical e.g. psychological, existential.
A person will not be eligible for VAD on the basis of having a disability, dementia or a mental health impairment alone. A person with disability, dementia or a mental health impairment may be eligible if they also have a disease, illness or medical condition that is expected to cause their death within the timeframe, and meet all of the other eligibility criteria.
Process of accessing voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales.
The process of voluntary assisted dying in Australia involves several steps. It typically starts with the patient expressing their interest in accessing voluntary assisted dying to their attending physician.
The patient then goes through a thorough assessment to determine their eligibility, including physical, psychological, and social assessments. They will also need to be assessed by at least two independent medical practitioners who have taken specialised training in voluntary assisted dying.
If the patient meets the eligibility criteria, they must make a written and witnessed request for assistance to die. It’s important to note that the patient can withdraw their request for voluntary assisted dying at any step of the process. Once the request is approved, the patient can self-administer a prescribed medication to end their life peacefully.
An implementation project is underway to ensure the voluntary assisted dying process is safe, appropriate and follows the law in NSW. NSW Health will establish an Implementation Committee, supported by an implementation team, to oversee and guide preparations for voluntary assisted dying. This will include working with many health representatives and stakeholders to develop the more detailed aspects of implementing voluntary assisted dying in NSW.
Safeguards and protections.
Voluntary assisted dying legislation in New South Wales includes a range of safeguards and protections to ensure that the process is carried out safely and ethically. The Act incorporates several safeguards, which include:
- Prohibition of family members or carers from requesting Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) on behalf of someone else.
- Requirement for the individual to make three separate requests for VAD, namely an initial request, a written declaration, and a final request.
- Mandate that the decision to pursue VAD must be voluntary, free from any form of coercion or undue influence, and enduring. These conditions will be verified during the request process and before the practitioner's involvement.
- Obligation to provide the person with information about their diagnosis, prognosis, available treatments, and palliative care options during the initial and consulting assessments, if they are deemed eligible for VAD.
- Granting individuals the right to change their mind about VAD at any point.
- Mandatory approved training and eligibility criteria for medical practitioners and nurse practitioners involved in administering VAD.
- Criminal offences, punishable by imprisonment, for anyone who induces another person to access VAD or self-administer a VAD substance.
- Protection from legal liability for individuals who, in good faith, assist someone in requesting or accessing VAD or are present when the person self-administers or is administered the VAD substance.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Board will be responsible for monitoring, reporting, research, and review of eligibility decisions.
Voluntary assisted dying is not yet available in NSW. The Department of Heath is implementing the systems, training and services ahead of voluntary assisted dying commencing on 28 November 2023.
Public opinion and controversies.
Voluntary assisted dying is a highly contentious and divisive topic in Australia, with varying opinions from different segments of society. Additionally, the introduction of legislation in Australia has been met with both support and apprehension.
Advocates for voluntary assisted dying argue that it provides a compassionate option for individuals suffering from intolerable pain and a diminished quality of life to have control over their own death. They argue that it promotes autonomy, choice, and dignity for patients at the end of their lives. It may also alleviate the financial burden of prolonged medical care.
However, opponents raise concerns about the potential for abuse, the devaluation of human life, and the ethical implications of intentionally ending a person's life, even in the context of terminal illness. The topic has sparked heated debates and discussions among policymakers, healthcare professionals, ethicists, and the general public.
Palliative care and end-of-life options.
Palliative care, which focuses on providing relief from pain and other distressing symptoms, is an important aspect of end-of-life care. It is often seen as a complementary approach to voluntary assisted dying, with the goal of improving the quality of life for patients who are facing a terminal illness.
Palliative care aims to address the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of patients and their families, providing support and comfort during this challenging time. In addition to palliative care, there may be other end-of-life options available to patients, such as hospice care, home-based care, and advanced care planning. It is important for patients and their families to be aware of the full range of options and make informed decisions based on their individual circumstances.
You can find more information on other support services and end of life planning at:
- NSW Health palliative care – find a list of end of life and palliative care resources in NSW.
- Advance care planning – make your wishes about health care known to your loved ones and health professionals.
Final thoughts on voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is a multifaceted and sensitive topic that involves various legal, ethical, medical, and societal considerations. It provides a compassionate option for individuals who are facing intolerable suffering and wish to have control over their own end-of-life decisions. However, it also raises concerns about potential risks, abuse, and ethical implications.
Ultimately, this should be approached respectfully as it can be a sensitive topic for many. Allowing people to die on their own terms means they can have a good death where their access to care and choices are respected. Furthermore, openly discussing death and dying can help prepare families for the passing and voluntary assisted dying can keep them more involved in the process, so they can ensure they’re close by for the final goodbye.
Part of being prepared for your end-of-life is planning for your funeral in advance with a Prepaid Funeral. If you’re interested in a Bare Prepaid Funeral, you can head to the link below for an instant quote for your area, or give our incredible Prepaid team a call on 1800 202 901.