The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board’s report on the first two years of assisted dying in Victoria confirms the law continues to operate safely as a genuine and compassionate end of life option.
The Board’s fifth biannual report shows that 107 terminally ill Victorians chose a voluntary assisted death in the first six months of 2021 and 331 have now made use of the Act since its inception two years ago.
The report found access to VAD is improving, with more doctors undertaking VAD training and assessments.
Kiki Paul, Go Gentle Australia’s CEO, welcomed the report.
“This fifth report from the VAD Review Board shows the Victorian law is operating safely and as intended. Access has improved, more doctors are signing up to assess patients and compliance with the Act remains incredibly high,” Ms Paul said.
“The independent report should reassure MPs in Queensland and New South Wales, who are debating the introduction of similar laws, that VAD is a safe and compassionate option.”
Ms Paul said the inclusion of data on the use of palliative care alongside VAD was also welcome.
“The Review Board has confirmed that 84% of VAD applicants were also receiving good palliative care, demonstrating that the two can work side by side to give dying Australians the best care and a real choice at the end of life.”
The report shows that since the Act commenced and until 30 June 2021:
- 836 people have been assessed for eligibility to access voluntary assisted dying
- 674 permit applications have been made
- 597 permits have been issued
- 331 people have died from taking the prescribed medications.
- The number of VAD deaths remained tiny – representing less than 0.4% of total deaths over the period.
- The average age of VAD applicants was 72 years, with men slightly more likely to be involved than women.
- Around two thirds of applicants lived in metropolitan areas (64%), with the remaining from the regions.
- 86% of applicants were living at home.
- 84% of applicants were either being seen, or had been seen, by a palliative care service.
- Terminal cancer remained the main illness leading to VAD applications.
The report also shows that access to voluntary assisted dying continues to improve. Compared to the previous six-month period there was growth in the number of medical practitioners registered for the online training program (+12%), practitioners registered in the portal (+11%), and involved in one or more voluntary assisted dying cases (+18%).
Compliance with the Act remained incredibly high at 99%. Only one case was deemed non-compliant. This was unrelated to patient eligibility. No deaths were considered reportable to the State Coroner, police or regulators.
Telehealth and the Commonwealth Criminal Code
The Board singled out a key challenge that continues to undermine the quality of care available to people who chose VAD and which “lacked compassion”.
“That is the continued lack of access to telehealth for voluntary assisted dying applicants, who continue to have to attend in-person appointments with their coordinating and consulting medical practitioners so that practitioners do not risk breaching the Commonwealth Criminal Code,” retiring Board chair Betty King QC wrote.
“This continues to create a barrier to access, as you will see detailed in this report. The Board will continue to advocate for Commonwealth legislative reform in the interests of voluntary assisted dying applicants and their families and carers.”