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MEDIA RELEASE: 'Retrograde' Federal Court ruling on telehealth and voluntary assisted dying will lead to further suffering

  • Federal Court ruling is out of step with contemporary Australia

  • Terminally ill people, especially in rural, regional and remote areas, will suffer

  • Federal parliament must act to end discrimination against dying people


A Federal Court ruling confirming that conversations about voluntary assisted dying must not occur via telephone, email or telehealth was a blow to terminally ill people everywhere but especially those living in rural and regional areas.

Dr Linda Swan, Go Gentle Australia’s CEO, said the ruling that voluntary assisted dying is considered suicide under Commonwealth criminal law would exacerbate suffering and confusion. 

“The court has effectively said healthcare professionals can only discuss voluntary assisted dying in-person and face to face,” Dr Swan said. 

"It is a judgement that is out of step with both contemporary medicine, and contemporary Australia. It is a retrograde decision that reflects Australian society of the 1970s, not of today.

"Dying people everywhere will be negatively affected, but especially those in rural, regional and remote areas who rely on telehealth for the bulk of their healthcare needs.”

Dr Swan warned that the decision would exacerbate the suffering of terminally ill people who cannot travel to in-person consultations. 

"We have heard stories of people dying in great pain and anguish before they could access VAD, simply because of delays imposed by the telehealth prohibition.

"One patient, desperate to be assessed for VAD, was driven to an in-person appointment in the boot of a car because this was the only way they could lie flat and cope with the pain of being moved."

Dr Swan said the prohibition was illogical and discriminatory. No other area of Australian medical practice was excluded from telehealth. 

"State VAD laws explicitly differentiate voluntary assisted dying from suicide. Suicide prevention organisations, health practitioners and the general public understand the difference. The federal parliament must act swiftly to end this discrimination against people who are dying," Dr Swan said.

"Independent MP Kate Chaney has said she intends to introduce a private member’s bill seeking to exempt VAD from the Criminal Code in the new year. We call on the federal parliament to get behind this bill."

Continuing to ban electronic discussion does not make VAD safer

"Doctors are subject to the same Medical Board of Australia standards, irrespective of whether consultations happen in person or via telehealth," Dr Swan said.

“What’s more, there is stricter supervision of a VAD practitioner’s assessments than any other area of medical practice. Whether telehealth is appropriate for a patient being assessed for VAD should be a matter of clinical judgement, as it is in all other areas of telehealth.”

The court's ruling also encouraged unnecessary expense and waste.

“Phone calls and emails are essential tools in any workplace and telehealth is an integral part of high-quality clinical care. They are already routinely used for serious decisions concerning life and death," Dr Swan said.

“A ban on their use means doctors must deliver scripts in-person and make repeated journeys to visit patients at home, often at great personal cost and expense."

Media contact: Steve Offner 0426 283 865 [email protected]

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