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Calls for more doctors as WA releases first annual VAD report

190 Western Australians ended their life through voluntary assisted dying in the law’s first year of operation, a greater-than-expected number, official figures show.

The inaugural annual report from the WA Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board has confirmed the law is operating safely and as intended.

Board chair Dr Scott Blackwell said: “Though a complex process, the ability of Western Australians to make the lawful choice of voluntary assisted dying, and to traverse the steps required to fulfill that choice, has worked well under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019.”

Demand for VAD had been greater than anticipated, the Board said.

In the 12 months from 1 July 2021:

  • 533 Western Australians requested VAD
  • 375 received a first assessment for eligibility
  • 284 went on to make a final request
  • 190 went on to administer VAD medications
  • VAD deaths represented 1.1% of all deaths in Western Australian in the time period.

The ages of West Australian requesting VAD ranged from 25-97 years, with a median age of 73. The majority of people had a cancer-related diagnosis (68%) and almost 6 out of 10 applicants identified as men.

The vast a majority of applicants lived in metropolitan areas (78.8%) and 85.3% had been receiving palliative care.

70 doctors and nurse practitioners had completed training and 50 were actively involved in making VAD assessments, the Board said.

The Board acknowledged the greater-than-anticipated demand for VAD services, and paid tribute to the medical practitioners who were offering VAD services.

“We, as a community, are deeply indebted to the people who have taken active roles in the operation of voluntary assisted dying across Western Australia," Dr Blackwell wrote. "The professional, caring and compassionate qualities that have emerged is a testament to each of them as individuals, and it has been a highlight of the year for the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board as we have been privileged to witness such commitment.” 

However, he noted the large number of voluntary assisted dying requests had had significant impact on participating practitioners and the statewide support services.

“The Voluntary Assisted Dying Board is concerned about the personal and professional pressures this places on participating practitioners. More participating practitioners are required to meet this greater than expected demand.”

Strategies to encourage more practitioners to be involved in VAD were among six recommendations made by the Board to improve VAD access for eligible Western Australians.

Others included:

  • That the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 be amended to remove the limitations on providing voluntary assisted dying information via Telehealth.
  • That VAD be included in the Medicare Benefit Schedule to allow VAD practitioners to be adequately remunerated.
  • That additional support be made available to the VAD Secretariate, the care navigators, the statewide pharmacy service and Health Service Providers who offer access to voluntary assisted dying.

Read the full Voluntary Assisted Dying Western Australia Annual Report 2021-22

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