News

Voluntary assisted dying report released


Matt Woodley


2/09/2020 5:09:24 PM

More than 120 Victorians have ended their lives during the scheme’s first 12 months, while GPs represent half of all registered practitioners.

Elderly man.
Overall, 124 patients have utilised the new laws to end their lives in the first 12 months of the scheme.

Safer Care Victoria has released the third report from the independent Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, continuing the trend revealed in its previous report of a much higher than anticipated uptake of the scheme.
 
Overall, 124 patients have utilised the new laws to end their lives, with 104 administering the medication themselves and a further 20 doing so with the assistance of a medical practitioner.
 
A further 50 patients have received medication but are yet to self-administer it, while 231 permits in total have been issued.
 
The numbers are much higher than the Victorian Government’s original estimate of 12 people utilising the scheme in the first year, and show a trend of increasing access with 78 patients ending their life from 1 January to 30 June, up from 46 in the first six months.
 
Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Palliative Care network Associate Professor Joel Rhee told newsGP the higher than expected number of people accessing voluntary assisted dying is a cause for concern, especially as it is more than 10 times higher than the original estimate.
 
‘At the least, it means that there was something wrong with the estimating process,’ he said.
 
‘At worst it means that we have a large number of people dying in Victoria whose condition is “causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner that the person considers tolerable”, which is the eligibility criteria for voluntary assisted dying.’
 
Aside from more patients accessing the scheme, the report also revealed:

  • Eligible applications increased by 50% from the first six months
  • More doctors are participating in the scheme, with the number of medical practitioners trained and registered in the portal increasing by 30% from the first six months
  • GPs represent half of the medical practitioners who have completed the training and are registered in the portal
  • Access issues in regional Victoria are easing; however, there is still a need for more specialists in regional areas
  • Thirty-eight per cent of applications were from people living in regional Victoria, while 37% of trained and registered medical practitioners are from outside metropolitan Melbourne
  • Compliance with the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 remains high – one application was deemed non-compliant with the law, due to an issue in the paperwork rather than the eligibility of the applicant
Loss of autonomy was frequently cited by applicants as a reason for requesting voluntary assisted dying, while other common reasons include being less able to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, losing control of body functions, and loss of dignity.
 
This loss of autonomy was also one of the reasons cited by Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board Chair Betty King in her call for voluntary assisted dying patients to be able to access telehealth.
 
‘Unfortunately, due to potentially conflicting Commonwealth legislation [Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995], telehealth is not an option for people wishing to access voluntary assisted dying,’ Ms King said.
 
‘With the ongoing requirement for face-to-face consultation in this process, the Board has received feedback that the current COVID-19 pandemic has created additional stress for people who are vulnerable and trying to self-isolate. This has a significant impact on Victorians living in regional areas or for those who find it incredibly difficult to travel due to their clinical condition.
 
‘This Board is repeating its call for the Commonwealth to reconsider making an exemption from the Criminal Code to allow Victorians, especially those in regional Victoria, to be able to have important conversations about voluntary assisted dying over the phone or via teleconference.’
 
However, according to The Age, the Federal Government has no plans to abolish the law, with Attorney-General Christian Porter saying it remains the responsibility of the Victorian Government to ensure its laws comply with Commonwealth law.
 
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Dr Suzanne Michelle Daly   3/09/2020 8:17:30 AM

NSW needs to introduce this law also.It is interesting that the number of applicants far outweighs the numbers who are following through at any one time showing that people just like to know that they can when they want which relieves a lot of distress!


Puzzling   3/09/2020 8:23:13 AM

The experience of suffering must be intense for individuals to make this decision. Curiously, many state governments obstruct an individual’s choice to access potentially beneficial compounds such as cannabinoids that may alleviate some of that suffering and may allow them to postpone this final step.