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11 assisted deaths in South Australia in first 3 months

New figures show eleven terminally ill people in South Australia ended their suffering using voluntary assisted dying (VAD) in the first three months of the law’s operation.

South Australia's first VAD Quarterly Report shows that between 31 January and 30 April, 28 people completed assessment for eligibility and were issued a voluntary assisted dying permit. Of these: 

  • 8 people died as a result of self-administration of the VAD substance
  • 3 people died as a result of practitioner administration of the VAD substance
  • 1 person died without taking the substance.

Of the 12 people who died:

  • 7 people had cancer as the disease illness or medical condition for which they were eligible for VAD.
  • 5 people had a neurodegenerative disease as the disease illness or medical condition for which they were eligible for VAD.

The number of VAD deaths has been lower than modelled during implementation, the Review Board said.  

Of the 12 people who died

  • 7 were aged between 70 and 79 years at the time of their death
  • 7 were male and 5 were female
  • 10 lived in metropolitan Adelaide and 2 lived in regional South Australia
  • 9 people died at home and 3 people died in a hospital
  • 9 (75%) were receiving a palliative care service while accessing VAD.

Head of the VAD Review Board Associate Professor Melanie Turner acknowledged statistics are not the only measures of the successful operation of the Act.

“I would personally like to recognise the work of the many staff and clinicians involved in supporting patients and families through the voluntary assisted dying pathway,” A/Prof Turner said.

In the first three months, a total of 105 medical practitioners had registered to undertake the mandatory practitioner training to be able to deliver VAD. Of these, 71 percent resided in metropolitan Adelaide with the remaining 29 percent in regional South Australia. 

Of the 105 practitioners who registered to undertake the mandatory training, 57 percent had completed the training and were eligible to deliver VAD.

The representation of medical practitioners across metropolitan and regional areas closely reflected South Australia’s population distribution, the Board said.

The whole process was carried out with the utmost care and compassion, everyone involved was absolutely wonderful.

Feedback from patients and families demonstrated the quality of service and support being provided.

“The whole process was carried out with the utmost care and compassion, everyone involved was absolutely wonderful and made things as easy as possible for us,” one family member reported.

Another said: “The doctor’s visit was more than we could have hoped for, she was kind and compassionate as well as being professional and respectful of my husband’s wishes. At each visit it was stipulated that my husband was in control of this process and could stop it at any time if he chose”.

The Board highlighted the need to improve access for eligible South Australians. It called for changes to the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act, sections 474.29A and 474.29B, which prohibit the use of a carriage service to discuss or send ‘suicide-related’ material.

“This has been interpreted to impact on discussions relating to voluntary assisted dying, including the provision of medication, the undertaking of online training and the distribution of information to patients and doctors,” the Board said.

“While assessments for eligibility for voluntary assisted dying can already be conducted via telehealth in South Australia, removing further legislative barriers will allow for better education for patients, their families and medical practitioners when seeking advice and support for the administration of voluntary assisted dying medication.”

Dion Manthorpe with his daughter Andrea Fuller (photo supplied)

Former Port Lincoln GP Dion Manthorpe was one of the first to take advantage of the voluntary assisted dying law. The 95-year-old was in the final stages of metastatic prostate cancer. His was the only regional assisted death reported.

Dr Manthorpe shared a bottle of Penfolds Grange with his five children before ending his life on his terms.

"He was so unwavering and so determined to do this as soon as possible and just so steadfast," his daughter, Andrea Fuller, told ABC News.

"There was never any hesitation and I think that helped us come to terms that this was the right thing to do."

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