On the 19th of June the ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (‘VAD’) comes into effect in Victoria.
Since the Act’s passing in 2017, Catholic Health and Aged Care services in Victoria have been working together to ensure that we have a clear and consistent response to the Act.
Our services are committed to excellent end of life care and have been serving the Australian community in end of life care for nearly 130 years. Our approach is in accordance with the Hippocratic tradition of medicine: When our patients are dying, we assist them to die in comfort and with dignity. We do this through commitments to:
- heal and never to harm;
- relieve pain and other physical symptoms of illness and frailty;
- address psychological distress;
- withdraw life-prolonging treatments when they are medically futile or overly burdensome or when a person wants them withdrawn;
- never abandon patients.
We do not consider that the prescription of a lethal substance to a person to help them end their own life, nor the administration of a lethal substance to a person by a health practitioner to end their life, are part of end of life care. Our position is consistent with the Australian Medical Association and the World Medical Association. It is these acts which will become legal under the name of ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying’ (‘VAD’).
As such, when ‘VAD’ comes into effect, our services will neither provide nor facilitate it.
Our staff have always had open discussions with patients, residents and families, including about their treatment and care at the end of life. That will not change. Each of our services has a system in place that will respond respectfully and compassionately to any questions about ‘VAD’. This includes coordinating transfer of care to other providers if a patient/resident wishes to seek ‘VAD’. We will not impede access to the provision of ‘VAD’ elsewhere.
In preparing for the implementation of the Act we have had an open line of communication with the Department of Health and Human Services and those responsible for the introduction of ‘VAD’ in Victoria. They are fully informed of our response to this legislation. We appreciate their recognition of the promises made by the parliamentarians, that hospitals and other healthcare institutions will not be pressured into facilitating nor providing VAD. Our response aligns with relevant guidelines for non-participating services.
We remain concerned about the lack of adequate and timely access to excellent palliative care in Victoria. We continue to call for the Victorian Government to expand palliative care services so all Victorians – particularly those in rural and regional areas – can access its benefits.