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Telehealth and voluntary assisted dying: leave it to the doctors

OPINION: Telehealth should be available, when needed, to support all types of health care, including voluntary assisted dying, argues our CEO Dr Linda Swan.

Go Gentle Australia CEO Dr Linda Swan 

For patients in remote and regional areas, telehealth has been a game changer. It has made timely, high quality care possible, especially for those who cannot travel for in-person appointments, either because they are too unwell, or too far away.

Unfortunately, for terminally ill Australians who want to access voluntary assisted dying (VAD), a telehealth option does not exist. In fact, using telehealth for VAD assessment is banned by federal law.

At present, the decision about whether telehealth is clinically appropriate in VAD care lies with politicians in Canberra.

An anomaly in the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 means that health professionals are prohibited from discussing large parts of the VAD process via any electronic communications; this includes telehealth, phone, email, text — even fax. If they do, they risk criminal prosecution and a $300 000 fine.

During the pandemic, we became familiar with telehealth. Something that began out of necessity has continued.

For VAD, in-person appointments are always preferred by clinicians. However, for terminally ill people who may be unwell or living in remote areas, requiring in-person appointments for every part of the VAD process is unreasonable. At worst, it can be the difference between accessing care and not.

Read the full opinion piece in MJA Insight+

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