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Latest figures from South Australia show steady increase in VAD permits

The South Australian VAD oversight body has released its latest quarterly report showing a 20 percent increase in the number of VAD permits issued during the quarter.

The South Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board has released its latest quarterly report covering the period between 1 July to 30 September, as well as its first annual report.

The quarterly report shows 48 people were issued with a VAD permit in the period, up from 40 in the June quarter. Sixty-nine people have now died using the VAD pathway in South Australia. 

Dr Linda Swan, CEO of Go Gentle Australia, says the increase in permits is in line with expectations.

“We know from other states that as the systems mature and public awareness grows, more people seek to access this compassionate end-of-life option.

“While the numbers are steadily increasing  they represent a very small percentage of overall deaths in the state at around 1%.”

The Board reported positive feedback from patients and families during the quarter, demonstrating a high quality of service and support provided. One family member, whose loved one went through the VAD process, said,

“We are grateful that this option was available to mum. She was so bright the morning of her death knowing her suffering would end. This made her last day a time with her family in good spirits (in the circumstances).”

Another said, “The instructions and pharmacist’s guidance were excellent, caring, and helpful. The process seemed simple, straightforward, and effective.”

The Statistics

Between 1 July and 30 September 2023, 

  • 48 people were issued with a VAD permit; 43 of these permits were self-administration and 5 were practitioner administration.
  • The average time between a first request and an outcome was 28 days.
  • Of the 48 people issued with a VAD permit, 39 people died. 
    • 31 died via VAD while 8 died without taking the substance.
  • Of these 39, the vast majority listed cancer as their primary condition, lived in Metropolitan Adelaide, and were receiving palliative care. Most were aged 70 years or older.
  • Since the start of VAD in South Australia, 118 medical practitioners have registered to undertake the VAD training. Of these, 70 have completed the training and are eligible to act as VAD practitioners.

There is a high representation of GPs providing VAD which, the Board writes, “reflects the important and valued role that GPs play in end of life care planning for patients living with a life limiting illness.”

For Dr Carolyn Lawlor-Smith, a GP in Adelaide, supporting patients through VAD was both a privilege and professionally stimulating.

“There is a depth to the doctor-patient relationship that emerges quickly as you explore the impact of a terminal illness on the patient’s life,” she said.

Future focus

The Board said its focus for the coming year would centre on improving grief and bereavement support, development of a culturally appropriate Aboriginal voluntary assisted dying model of care, and building a sustainable cohort of VAD practitioners.

“To ensure a safe, sustainable, equitable, and accessible voluntary assisted dying pathway in South Australia, a Medical Practitioner Education and Training Strategy is being developed.

“The Strategy will promote increased medical practitioner registration, training and participation in voluntary assisted dying and outline actions to ensure the sustainment of the existing, invaluable workforce.”

Read the Quarterly Report 1 July to 30 September

Read the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board Annual Report 2022-23

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