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 South Australia.

In June 2021, South Australia passed a Voluntary Assisted Dying law. It commenced on January 31, 2023, and eligible terminally ill individuals can now access the law. The law sets criteria for eligibility, includes safeguards, outlines the request process, specifies the administration of assisted dying, and may involve reporting and oversight mechanisms. For detailed and up-to-date information, consult the official government sources or the text of the legislation itself.

Eligibility and criteria for voluntary assisted dying in South Australia.

To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying in South Australia, there are strict criteria that must be met. These criteria are designed to ensure that only individuals who are genuinely suffering and near the end of life can access voluntary assisted dying.

Here is a comprehensive list of eligibility. A person is eligible if they:

  • are aged 18 years or over; 
  • are an Australian citizen or permanent resident, who has been resident in South Australia for at least 12 months when they first request voluntary assisted dying
  • have decision-making capacity; 
  • are acting voluntarily and without coercion; 
  • have a disease, illness or medical condition that is: 
  • incurable, advanced, progressive, and will cause death
  • 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 is not eligible for VAD on the basis of having a disability or a mental illness alone. A person with disability or mental illness 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 South Australia.

The process of voluntary assisted dying in South Australia typically starts with the patient expressing their interest in accessing voluntary assisted dying to their attending physician. There are 11 steps in the Voluntary Assisted Dying Pathway:

  • The individual initiates their first request for voluntary assisted dying by approaching a registered health practitioner.
  • An initial evaluation is conducted by a medical practitioner (referred to as the coordinating doctor).
  • A second evaluation is carried out by another medical practitioner (referred to as the consulting doctor).
  • The individual completes a written declaration to gain access to voluntary assisted dying.
  • After at least 9 days have passed since the first request, the individual submits a final request for voluntary assisted dying.
  • The individual selects a contact person, who agrees to take on the responsibility.
  • The coordinating doctor conducts a final review and requests the necessary permit.
  • Once the permit is approved, the coordinating doctor prescribes the required medication.
  • The South Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Pharmacy Service arranges the delivery of the medication in a secure box through a pharmacist.
  • If the individual decides to proceed, they can either personally administer the medication (self-administration) or, in specific situations, a medical practitioner may administer it.
  • Following the individual's passing, the death is officially certified, and any unused medication is returned by the contact person.

Safeguards and protections.

The Act incorporates a total of 70 safeguards to ensure that only eligible individuals can access voluntary assisted dying, making it one of the most secure and regulated pathways for this practice worldwide.

By establishing clear eligibility criteria, the Act guarantees that the decision to pursue voluntary assisted dying is entirely voluntary. It also provides comprehensive guidance for healthcare practitioners on how to lawfully support individuals who choose this option.

Key safeguards in the legislation include:  

  • a person making a request to access voluntary assisted dying must have decision making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying  
  • a person making a request to access voluntary assisted dying must make a decision that is voluntary and made without coercion  
  • demonstration that the choice to request voluntary assisted dying is enduring  
  • registered health practitioners are prohibited from initiating a discussion about voluntary assisted dying with a patient   
  • requirements relating to the qualifications and training of participating medical practitioners  
  • record keeping and reporting requirements.  

Implementation challenges in South Australia.

The implementation of voluntary assisted dying legislation in South Australia has posed various challenges. These challenges may include issues related to training and education of healthcare professionals, access to care in rural and remote areas, reporting and documentation requirements, and coordination among different stakeholders involved in the process. 

The SA Voluntary Assisted Dying Implementation Conference was held virtually on Wednesday 16 November 2022. The conference provided information about how voluntary assisted dying will be implemented in South Australia including an overview of the process and support services. Attendees submitted over 150 questions and comments in the online chat during the conference. You can find the answers from the conference here.

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.