Voluntary Assisted Dying is now available in NSW
Arrangements for the use of voluntary assisted dying (VAD) commenced in NSW on Monday, 28 November 2023. Eligible people are now able to end their lives at a time of their own choosing, and in an environment that suits their needs and circumstances.
NSW is the last Australian state to have introduced VAD arrangements. While many people felt frustrated at the time it took for the state to put VAD provisions in place, NSW has benefited from the experience of the other states so that the arrangements in NSW are considered to be the best available.
As an example, clinicians in NSW are able to raise and discuss the VAD option with their patients as long as it is in the context of a wider discussion of other treatment options, including palliative care, whereas clinicians in all other states are not allowed to raise VAD with their patients.
NSW Health has developed a range of information for those wanting to learn about VAD, whether they be people with a diagnosis of a terminal illness, family, carers and friends, or health practitioners or providers. The VAD website is available here: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/voluntary-assisted-dying/Pages/default.aspx
Cancer Voices NSW, after consultation with its members and extensive discussion by the CVN Executive Committee, adopted a position in support of VAD in 2021 on the basis that it would provide a further choice for people’s treatment options. At the same time, the CVN position continues to emphasise the importance of improved palliative and end-of-life care service provision in NSW as a fundamental right of those affected by cancer.
CVN also joined the NSW VAD Alliance which was established by Dying With Dignity NSW to strengthen the efforts that were required for the eventual approval by the NSW Parliament of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2022.
NSW Health has committed significant resources to VAD implementation, with the establishment of the centralised NSW VAD Care Navigator Service and VAD teams in each local health district, and the training of around 120 practitioners who will be closely involved in the VAD process once a person has initiated it.
Information and interpreter services are available in a range of languages, and particular focus has been placed on the needs of Aboriginal people who may wish to die on Country, and the associated traditional Sorry Business ceremonies after a person has died.
People living in more remote locations who need to travel to attend a VAD-related appointment will be eligible to apply for assistance from the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Service (IPTAAS).
The consultation process undertaken by the NSW Ministry of Health, through the Office of the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, in developing NSW’s VAD arrangements included the establishment of a Consumer Engagement Advisory Group (CEAG) that provided expert and informed advice on areas including the VAD website, the range of VAD information material, the NSW VAD Clinical Practice Handbook, and the need for access to IPTAAS.
Murray McLachlan, CVN Deputy Chair and Secretary, was a member of the CEAG as the representative of Health Consumers NSW, the state’s peak health consumer organisation.
Notwithstanding all states now having VAD arrangements in place, with it likely that the ACT and Northern Territory will introduce VAD arrangements, advocacy on VAD will continue. Some of the issues that need to be addressed to ensure equitable access to VAD across Australia include the:
- achievement of consistency across all VAD arrangements so that people in one state or territory are not disadvantaged by less-than-optimal provisions
- removal of the restriction placed by the Howard Government through the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) on the use of a ‘carriage service’ (such as telephone or email) to access, send or provide information about ‘suicide’ with many clinicians being unwilling to breach the restriction given the possibility of prosecution.
Given that, in all of the Australian states with VAD arrangements, people with a terminal cancer diagnosis are between 70-80% of those making use of VAD, Cancer Voices NSW is pleased to have played a part in the widening of the choices that a person dying from cancer can now make.