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Voluntary assisted dying in South Australia - what you need to know

Medical assistance to die becomes legal in South Australia from Tuesday 31 January 2023, offering dying people the choice to avoid needless suffering at the end of their life.

South Australia was the fourth state to pass a voluntary assisted dying (VAD) law and the fifth to make the choice available, following in the footsteps of Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. 

The SA law passed the parliament in June 2021 but has been subject to a protracted implementation period to establish the necessary processes and prepare the medical community. 

Who can apply?

The South Australian law is similar to other Australian VAD laws and has strict eligibility criteria. To use the law, a person must be:

  • Diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition 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
  • Aged 18+
  • An Australian citizen or permanent resident who has lived in South Australia for at least 12 months

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 the South Australian Department of Health website.

If you are considering using the law and want to know if you are eligible, please contact the VAD Care Navigator Service SAVAD-CNS . This is 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 South Australia, doctors and healthcare workers are NOT allowed to raise the topic of voluntary assisted dying with you. Once you ask them about voluntary assisted dying, they can tell you about the next steps. However, some doctors may not want to be involved or readily offer information, so it is important that you ask.

If your doctor can’t help you (they may not have done the voluntary assisted dying training or they may not want to be involved, known as 'conscientious objection') you are entitled to look for another doctor who is willing to help. 

How did we get here?

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act was passed by the South Australian parliament on 24 June 2021. Initiated as a private member's bill, the reform received support across the political spectrum.

The legislation was the result of a comprehensive consultation process that included a year-long parliamentary inquiry, and widespread community outreach by the architect of the law, the Hon. Kyam Maher MLC.

The outpouring of community support from all those who bravely shared their stories, signed petitions, attended vigils 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 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.
  • 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

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