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New report shows Victorian VAD law continues to work safely

03 March, 2021

The latest independent report from the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board confirms the Victorian VAD law continues to offer 'genuine, compassionate choice' to terminally ill people, despite constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The independent Review Board responsible for scrutinising Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 has released its fourth biannual report.

In the past six months July-Dec 2020, the data shows:

  • 94 terminally ill people ended their suffering through the VAD process, bringing the total number of assisted deaths in Victoria to 224
  • The average age of applicants since the law began was 71 years, with a roughly even gender split slightly in favour of men
  • Access to voluntary assisted dying had improved, with a 25 per cent increase in the number of medical practitioners involved in applications
  • Two thirds of applicants lived in metropolitan areas, with the remaining from the regions
  • Almost 90 per cent of applicants were living at home at the time of application
  • Compliance remained high with 95 per cent of cases deemed compliant. Of the six cases requiring review, none of the issues concerned the eligibility of the applicant.

The 94 people who died using VAD represented 0.45% of total deaths in Victoria over the six-month period and just 0.35% over the life of the VAD scheme - a tiny proportion.

Go Gentle Australia welcomes the news that there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of healthcare practitioners involved in the VAD process; those who have undertaken the training, registered in the portal and assessed individuals for VAD. This will improve access for applicants across Victoria, particularly for those with rare conditions and living in rural areas.

We also join the Review Board in applauding the clinicians who have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to maintain VAD access for terminally ill Victorians. Chair Betty King writes in her foreword:

The fact that voluntary assisted dying has been able to continue during this time is truly a testament to the work of many people and I wish to acknowledge their dedication.

We note that the report recommends applicants "initiate conversations about voluntary assisted dying early after being given a terminal diagnosis". The report highlights that VAD should never be considered an "emergency medical procedure" and emphasises that the application process is lengthy.

We endorse the above, and note that 32 per cent of applicants who had beeen assessed as eligible and received VAD permits died before they could complete the VAD process. We suggest that if the 'gag clause' prohibiting doctors from raising the subject of VAD with their patients were to be removed, as in WA's law, this would go some way to supporting people with terminal illness to plan ahead for their end of life care and treatment - and reduce the number of people who, unfortunately, leave it too late.

Of the six cases deemed non-compliant in the past six-month period, two cases were when the contact person failed to return the unused VAD medication within the stipulated 15 day period following the death of the applicant. This is very understandable given the stress around bereavement, and in both cases, once alerted, the contact person promptly returned the medication with no risk to public safety.

In the remaining four cases, a medical practitioner unintentionally misinterpreted the law which resulted in the first request for VAD being made to a medical practitioner who did not go on to become the coordinating medical practitioner. This is contrary to the requirements of the Act where the coordinating medical practitioner must be the person who receives and accepts the first request. This misunderstanding has now been resolved.

You can download the report in full here: https://www.bettersafercare.vic.gov.au/reports-and-publications/voluntary-assisted-dying-report-of-operations-july-to-december-2020

 

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