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Voluntary assisted dying in NSW: What you need to know

From 28 November 2023, eligible terminally ill people in NSW will have access to voluntary assisted dying, marking a significant milestone for NSW residents and for Australia as a whole.

After an 18 month implementation period to establish the necessary services and prepare the medical community, voluntary assisted dying (VAD) will be available in NSW from Tuesday, 28 November 2023.

NSW is the sixth and final Australian state to make VAD available, with only the ACT and NT yet to pass and implement legislation.

Go Gentle Australia CEO, Dr Linda Swan, says the commencement of the NSW law is a significant moment for NSW residents and for Australia.

"All six Australian states have now implemented a VAD law, giving the vast majority of Australians access to this compassionate end-of-life choice.

While it is a milestone to celebrate, it is also a bittersweet moment. There will be terminally ill people who have been desperately waiting for this law to begin. And we also mustn’t forget the people for whom this law came too late. Today will be a difficult day for their friends and family.”

Who is eligible?

Similar to other Australian VAD laws, the NSW law prescribes strict eligibility criteria. To be eligible to access VAD, a person must:

  • Be an adult (18 years and older), who is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia or who has been resident in Australia for at least three continuous years,
  • Have been living in NSW for at least 12 months (noting the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board may consider a residency exemption on compassionate grounds for a person with a substantial connection to NSW),
  • Have at least one disease, illness or medical condition that:
    • is advanced and progressive,
    • will, on the balance of probabilities, cause their death within six months (or within 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases like motor neurone disease), and
    • is causing the person suffering that cannot be relieved in a way the person considers tolerable.
  • Have decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying,
  • Be acting voluntarily and without pressure or duress, and
  • Have an enduring request for access to voluntary assisted dying.

To find out more, visit VAD in NSW or the NSW Health website. 

How do I apply?

VAD is not an emergency procedure. To avoid stress and delays, start the process early as fulfilling all the eligibility requirements can take weeks. 

The first step is to talk to your doctor; this could be your GP or another specialist. 

“We’ve been told around 150 health professionals have completed the VAD training, with a further 200 in the pipeline,” Dr Swan said.

These are encouraging numbers. By comparison, when Victoria’s law commenced only a handful of doctors had completed the training. In Western Australia it was around 20.”

In NSW, doctors and healthcare workers are allowed to raise the topic of VAD with you, as long as they also discuss other end-of-life options, including palliative care. However, some may not want to be involved or readily offer information, so it is important that you ask.

If your doctor is not able or willing to help, perhaps because they haven’t completed the mandatory training or they have a conscientious objection, you are well within your rights to seek another doctor’s opinion. 

You can also contact the NSW Care Navigator 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.

The Care Navigator Service also can connect patients with coordinating, consulting, and administering practitioners."

Know your rights

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 will actively participate in VAD and arrangements may need to be made to allow external VAD assessors and support services onto the premises. It’s best to find this out sooner rather than later. Remember, under the law facilities have obligations to the people in their care and cannot actively obstruct your access to VAD services.

Is there a cost?

It is free to call the NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigator Service.

The usual costs to see a general practitioner, private doctor or specialist may apply so you should discuss any potential costs with your doctor at the start of the process.

Learn more at VAD in NSW.

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