New voluntary assisted dying Bill gives GPs and patients choice

Matt Woodley

30/03/2021 3:12:33 PM

Tasmanian doctors will have the next 18 months to adjust to the state’s ‘world class’ legislation.

Hands of an elderly woman.
Tasmanian patients will likely be able to start accessing voluntary assisted dying in around 18 months.

Tasmania has become the third Australian state to establish voluntary assisted dying laws, after legislation passed the state’s upper house last week.
The End of Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill follows similar legislation enacted in Victoria and Western Australia, but has several key differences, including:

  • that patients will only require one face-to-face appointment with a medical practitioner when trying to access the scheme, with subsequent consultations available via telehealth
  • the ability for a trained registered nurse to administer the voluntary assisted dying substance
  • the potential for patients to receive an exemption from the Bill’s requirement that they have an estimated six months left to live (or 12 if the condition is neurodegenerative).
RACGP Tasmania Chair Dr Tim Jackson told newsGP the new set of laws are ‘world class’, but the scheme will take time to put in place.
‘It was all about patient choice regarding their end of life decisions, but it needed to be very safe and allow GPs to make a choice themselves on whether they got involved,’ he said.
‘It’s going to take around 18 months to get the Bill operationalised, and for those GPs that are interested in assisting their patients with their end of life choices to get the education and then get credentialed.
‘It’s a very safe bill and it’s been very well thought out, so that’s reassuring.’
The laws were passed only weeks after Victoria – the first state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying – released its most recent six-monthly report detailing activity from 1 July to 31 December 2020.
During that period, 233 people were assessed for eligibility and 174 permits were issued for either self-administered or practitioner-administered voluntary assisted dying.
Substances for self-administration were dispensed to 127 people and there were 94 confirmed deaths – 70 of which were self-administered, while 24 were practitioner-assisted.
The numbers represent an increase on the previous six month period, while there has also been growth in the number of practitioners who have registered for the online training program. Of the 455 doctors who have registered for training, 210 are now able to support applications – 36% of which are based in rural or regional Victoria.
Since June 2019, when the Act commenced: 
  • 581 people have been assessed for eligibility
  • 465 permit applications have been made
  • 405 permits have been issued
  • 224 people have died from taking the prescribed medications
  • all applicants were aged between 20 and 100 years, and the average age was 71 
  • 47% of applicants were female 
  • 36% were from regional Victoria 
  • 87% were living in their own home at the time of the application 
  • 67% administered the medication themselves
  • 77% had a malignancy diagnosis, such as lung, breast or gastrointestinal cancer
  • of those with a non-malignant diagnosis, 62% had a neurodegenerative disease 
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Dr Adam Louws   31/03/2021 10:55:16 AM

This is evil. Killing patients and calling it choice? This is not what medicine is about.