Voluntary Assisted Dying has emerged as a topic of profound ethical, medical, and societal discussion. In Australia, the introduction of VAD services has given individuals the option to pass peacefully and on their terms when faced with terminal illnesses.
This article delves into the logical basis behind VAD, why some individuals opt for this end-of-life option, and weighs the pros and cons of such measures.
What is Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD)?
Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) refers to a legal process that allows a terminally-ill person to access prescribed medications that they can self-administer to bring about their own death. Introduced into law by Victoria in 2019, the practice is governed by strict legal safeguards to ensure that it is only available to those who meet specific eligibility criteria and have a genuine desire to end their suffering.
VAD Under Review
At present, Queensland, SA, Victoria, WA, and Tasmania have VAD laws in effect. NSW passed its own VAD bill in May 2022, but it will be only officially legal on 28 November 2023.
The Northern Territory once established the world’s first euthanasia law, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, which was scrapped in 1997, but the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 allowed it and the ACT to start deliberations on drafting their own VAD legislation.
In August 2023, Victoria Health Minister Mary Anne Thomas said the Centre for Evaluation and Research Evidence is rechecking the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act for its effectiveness four years after becoming law, without looking for revisions in the Act. The review will focus, among others, on the state’s frontline VAD operators, and the work of the VAD Review Board and Statewide Pharmacy and Care Navigator services. Data from June 2019 to June 2022 noted that 604 Victorians have opted to undergo VAD during that period and 80 per cent were diagnosed with cancer.
Currently, Victoria’s VAD services are available exclusively to patients with terminal, incurable illnesses but are still mentally capable of decision-making. However, there are certain hurdles to firmly accessing the option in the state.
Why Some People Choose VAD
The introduction of VAD services in Australia is rooted in a range of ethical, medical, and humanitarian considerations. Some key rationales include the following.
VAD emphasises the importance of personal autonomy over their own life and death decisions. It acknowledges that people have the right to determine the course of their life, including the manner and timing of their death.
For some individuals facing terminal illnesses, the pain and suffering becomes unbearable despite palliative care efforts. VAD offers a way to end their suffering on their own terms. The relief may even be possible depending on the time a patient is still expected to live. Queensland, in particular, can help the patient arrange VAD for all terminal conditions if they are expected to die within 12 months.
Facing an imminent, painful death can lead some individuals to opt for VAD to retain a sense of control over the timing of their passing. This can alleviate anxiety and fear associated with an unpredictable end.
People may choose VAD when their quality of life is significantly compromised due to debilitating symptoms or loss of independence. This option allows individuals to align their end-of-life choices with their personal values and beliefs. It can provide a sense of closure and peace for those who choose this route.
VAD can also be a way to spare loved ones from witnessing the distressing progression of a terminal illness. It allows individuals to say their goodbyes and pass away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones and in a familiar environment.
Why Someone could be Hesitant?
The introduction of Voluntary Assisted Dying services has ignited complex debates on personal autonomy, medical ethics, and societal norms. While VAD offers individuals the option to pass peacefully and on their own terms, it also raises significant ethical concerns.
This may be true in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), as the Archbishop of Sydney has expressed his opposition to setting its minimum age limit for VAD to 14 years old.
Critics worry about a slippery slope scenario where the criteria for eligibility could expand beyond terminal illnesses. Diagnosing terminal illness can sometimes be uncertain, raising questions about whether an individual is truly in the last stages of life.
The decision to opt for VAD is deeply personal and multifaceted, influenced by individual beliefs, values, and circumstances. As society continues to grapple with the balance between compassionate end-of-life options and ethical considerations, the discussions around VAD remain a poignant reminder of the delicate nature of life-and-death decisions.
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DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only. The Australian Seniors Advisory Group has no relations with any VAD service nor endorse or disparage the practice.