Voluntary assisted dying – where do you stand?

17 Jun 2019

Gayle Peres da Costa

by Gayle Peres da Costa

Doctor takes notes as she sits across from her patient

Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws will come into effect on 19 June 2019.

VAD is not about withdrawal of burdensome treatments which are no longer effective – this is part of standard medical care. Rather, VAD involves a doctor prescribing medication to a patient with the explicit intention of causing death.

If you are asked to be involved in VAD you need to be aware of your rights and obligations.

Under the legislation, doctors are prohibited from initiating discussions or suggesting VAD to a patient and may decline to assist a patient seeking access to VAD on the basis that they are a conscientious objector or are unavailable.

If you are willing to be involved in VAD, you must obtain a permit from the VAD Board. A doctor who supplies a VAD substance without a permit will be guilty of aiding and abetting suicide.

Two doctors must be involved in the assessment process before an application can be made to the VAD Board. To be one of these doctors you must have undertaken approved assessment training.

There are stringent eligibility criteria for patients - they must be over 18 years of age, have decision making capacity and be diagnosed with a condition that is incurable, advanced, progressive, is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a tolerable manner and is expected to cause death within less than 6 months (12 months for a neurodegenerative condition).

You are required to counsel your patient regarding their diagnosis and prognosis, treatment options and likely outcome, palliative care options, the risks of taking a VAD substance and that the expected outcome is death. You may need to involve a further medical specialist and/or psychiatrist.

If an application is successful, the VAD Board will issue a permit for either self-administration or practitioner administration of a VAD substance.

For more information see my article in Defence Update and Victoria Health’s website.

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This blog contains general information only. We recommend you contact your medical defence organisation or insurer when you require specific advice in relation to medico-legal matters.



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