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Victoria is the first state in Australia to pass voluntary assisted dying laws. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act provides a safe legal framework for people who are suffering and dying to choose the manner and timing of their death.
With comprehensive safeguards and rigorous protections, the process for accessing voluntary assisted dying in Victoria will be the safest and most conservative in the world.
What is voluntary assisted dying?
Voluntary assisted dying means administering a medication for the purpose of causing death in accordance with the steps and process set out in law.
Voluntary assisted dying must be voluntary and initiated by the person themselves, and it will usually be self-administered. Only those who are already dying from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition will be able to access voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is only for those who face an inevitable, imminent death as a result of an incurable disease, illness or medical condition.
Why is there a law?
Voluntary assisted dying is a process where an eligible individual (and only that individual) who is at the end of their life, and suffering, may choose the timing and manner of their death, after following steps set out in Victorian law.
The law means that a person may be assisted by medical practitioners to access a medications to use to end their life at a time of their choosing. The process ensures the person’s decision is voluntary and enduring, and provides clear guidance for how medical practitioners can lawfully support the person in this choice.
The law also provides a range of protections to make sure that voluntary assisted dying is safely implemented and monitored in Victoria.
Who is able to access voluntary assisted dying?
Voluntary assisted dying is only for people who are suffering from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition, who are experiencing intolerable suffering. The condition must be assessed by two medical practitioners to be expected to cause death within six months.
There is an exception for a person suffering from a neurodegenerative condition, where instead the condition must be expected to cause death within 12 months.
Voluntary assisted dying will only be available to Victorians who are over the age of 18 who have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months, and who have decision-making capacity. To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying they must be experiencing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable.
Mental illness or disability alone are not grounds for access to voluntary assisted dying, but people who meet all other criteria, and who have a disability or mental illness, will not be denied access to voluntary assisted dying.
How will voluntary assisted dying work?
Only the person wanting to access voluntary assisted dying may initiate discussions with health practitioners about voluntary assisted dying.
A family member or carer can’t request voluntary assisted dying on somebody else’s behalf. This is to ensure that the request is completely voluntary and without coercion, and that the decision is the person’s own.
If a person wants to request access to voluntary assisted dying, they will need to be assessed by a suitably qualified doctor who will determine if the person is eligible. If the person is eligible, the process is repeated with a second doctor who will need to conduct another assessment. The doctors will make sure the person is making a fully informed decision and is aware of the available palliative care options.
If the person wishes to proceed, they will need to make a written declaration that is witnessed by two independent individuals, confirming that they are making an informed, voluntary and enduring decision to access voluntary assisted dying.
On receiving a final request, the doctor will apply for a permit to prescribe a medication that the person may use to end their life at a time of their choosing. The person must administer the medication themselves, unless they are physically unable to do so, in which case their doctor may assist.
No health practitioner or healthcare provider will be obliged to participate in voluntary assisted dying.
Are there safeguards?
The process set out in the law includes many steps and safeguards to make sure that people are not being pressured to participate in the voluntary assisted dying process, and that it is completely voluntary.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will monitor all activity under the law and will receive reports from all health practitioners who participate. The Board will make sure that the Act is being complied with and will also monitor permit applications.
A person who is prescribed a voluntary assisted dying medication will also appoint a contact person so that any unused medications will be safely returned.
When will voluntary assisted dying be available in Victoria?
The law comes into effect on 19 June 2019. After this date, people who meet the set of strict eligibility criteria will be able to request access to voluntary assisted dying. All people at the end of life will be supported to receive access to appropriate end of life care options.
The Victorian Government is currently working to help health practitioners and health services prepare for providing voluntary assisted dying, including how to support those that choose to participate as well as those who conscientiously object.
Some people may find issues relating to end of life care upsetting. If reading the material on this site or thinking about end of life care has raised some issues regarding grief and bereavement or personal crisis, the helplines below provide telephone support and counselling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some services may also provide online assistance (depending on the service).
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement: call 1800 642 066
Lifeline: call 13 11 14