Medical assistance to die becomes legal in Tasmania from Sunday 23 October, offering dying people the choice to avoid needless suffering at the end of their life.
Tasmania is the third Australian state to make voluntary assisted dying (VAD) available, following in the footsteps of Victoria and Western Australia.
The Tasmanian law passed the parliament in March 2021 but has been subject to an 18-month implementation period to establish the necessary processes and prepare the medical community.
Who can apply?
The Tasmanian law is similar to other Australian VAD laws and has strict eligibility criteria. To use the law, a person must be:
- Aged 18+
- An Australian citizen or permanent resident who has lived in Tasmania for at least 12 months (or continuously resident in Australia for three years)
- Diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness, medical condition or injury that:
- is advanced, progressive and will cause death within six months (or 12 months if you have a neurodegenerative disorder, such as motor neurone disease)
- is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner the person finds tolerable
- Capable of making decisions about their medical treatment and communicate those decisions throughout the assessment process
- Acting freely and without coercion
A person must make three separate requests for voluntary assisted dying and have the approval of two doctors.
To find out more about the law, visit Tasmania's Dept of Health website.
If you are considering using the law and want to know if you are eligible, please contact the Tasmanian Voluntary Assisted Dying Navigators Service. They are a multidisciplinary team of experienced nurses and allied health professionals trained to guide applicants, families and medical professionals through the VAD process.
Also talk to your doctor. This could be your GP or a specialist. In Tasmania, doctors and healthcare workers are allowed to raise the topic of voluntary assisted dying with you, as long as they also tell you about other end-of-life options, including palliative care. However, some doctors may not want to be involved or readily offer information, so it is important that you ask.
How did we get here?
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 was the fourth attempt in Tasmania to pass VAD legislation. Unlike Victoria and Western Australia, Tasmania's law was not initiated by the government but was instead a private member's bill drafted and introduced by the Hon Mike Gaffney MLC. Mike travelled widely and exhaustively researched VAD in countries where laws had already passed in preparation for writing his bill.
The bill would never have been successful without the impressive advocacy of Dying with Dignity Tasmania and Jacqui and Natalie Gray (pictured above with mother Diane), whose Your Choice TAS campaign expertly mobilised community support. Diane's dying wish was for Tasmania to pass a VAD law so no-one else need suffer as she had.
The outpouring of community support from all those who bravely shared their stories, leafletted and wrote to their MPs demonstrated the community's determination that their voice would not be silenced on this issue.
If you are considering an assisted death
Experience from Victoria, where assisted dying has been available since June 2019, and Western Australia, whose law came into effect in July 2021, has provided valuable insight for those considering an assisted death.
- Voluntary assisted dying is not an emergency procedure. To avoid stress and delays, start the process early. Fulfilling all the eligibility requirements can take weeks.
- In some exceptional cases, an application for VAD can be done more quickly if, for example, there is a risk you might die before the assessment process is finished but this adds complexity to the process.
- If the first doctor you speak to cannot help you (if they are not trained or they have opted out of VAD, known as 'conscientious objection'), you are well within your rights to seek another doctor’s opinion.
- If you live in an aged care facility or retirement village, speak to the staff about your wish to use VAD as soon as possible. Not all facilities allow it on their premises and it’s best to find this out sooner rather than later.
- If you feel comfortable to do so, discuss your wishes with your loved ones and medical team.
- Voluntary assisted dying is voluntary for all involved. You can pause your application, or stop it altogether, at any time, if you change your mind.
Learn more at VAD in my state