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Access still an issue, new VAD report shows

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board’s report on the first three years of assisted dying in Victoria confirms the law continues to operate 'safely and lawfully' - but access remains an issue for people in regional areas.

The Board’s annual report shows that 269 terminally ill Victorians used the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act to end their lives between June 2021 - July 2022, making up 0.58% of the state's total deaths in the same period. 

Although there has been an increase in the number of doctors training to become VAD practitioners - a 17% rise on the previous year 20/21 - the report highlights that parts of regional Victoria remain underserved. In Western Victoria, for example, just 10 practitioners serve the entire region west of Ballarat. This poses significant issues if a terminally ill person is too unwell to travel or needs to see a specialist.

Chair Julian Gardner AM said the Board would continue to advocate for the use of telehealth in the VAD assessment process to 'enhance access for all Victorians, regardless of their location or mobility'.

The report also summarised feedback it has received about how to improve the Act's operation. This included allowing doctors to start conversations about VAD with their patients - something only Victoria and SA prohibit doctors from doing - and establishing access for people from other VAD jurisdictions (for example, a terminally ill person from New Zealand or neighbouring WA who has moved to Victoria to be with family at the end of their life would currently be prohibited from accessing VAD in Victoria).

The report shows that since the Act commenced and until 30 June 2022:

  • 1545 have applied for access to voluntary assisted dying
  • 1123 permit applications have been made
  • 1035 permits have been issued
  • 604 people have died from taking prescribed medications
  • 618 doctors have completed the mandatory VAD training but only 30% of those have so far been involved in a case
  • The majority of VAD practitioners are GPs (60%)
  • The median age of VAD applicants was 73 years, with men slightly more likely to be involved than women
  • Around two thirds of applicants lived in metropolitan areas (63%), with the remaining from the regions
  • 82.6% of VAD applicants have accessed or were being cared for by a palliative care service
  • Terminal cancer remained the main illness leading to VAD applications

Compliance with the Act remained incredibly high. No deaths were considered reportable to the State Coroner, police or regulators.