Skip navigation

What is the ‘Australian model’ of voluntary assisted dying?

Laws to allow voluntary assisted dying – also known as voluntary euthanasia – have passed in all six Australian states. But the rules are very strict. Here's what you need to know.

Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) gives terminally ill people, who are suffering intolerably, the option to choose the timing and circumstances of their death.

VAD laws are in operation in Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia. The NSW law will begin in November 2023. Only the ACT and Northern Territory are yet to pass legislation.

Who can use voluntary assisted dying?

Australia’s VAD laws are among the most restrictive in the world, designed only for adults who are terminally ill and who are suffering.

Advanced age, disability or mental illness by themselves do not make a person eligible – you must also be terminally ill and satisfy all the other eligibility requirements.

To access VAD you must be:

  • Diagnosed with an incurable disease, illness or medical condition that:
    • is advanced, progressive and will cause death within 6 months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions. In Queensland the timeframe is 12 months for all conditions
    • is causing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner you find tolerable
  • Capable of making decisions about your 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 your state for at least 12 months

Although there is now a clearly defined ‘Australian model’ of VAD, each state has passed slightly different legislation subject to its local requirements. Visit voluntary assisted dying law in my state to find out more.

Can I ask my doctor about VAD?

Yes. Another way to get information is to ask your doctor. However, be aware that not all doctors have done the VAD training and some may not be willing to offer information. You can also contact the free VAD Care Navigator Service in your state. The Navigators are experts in providing the right information. Select your state to get their contact details.

Why do people choose an assisted death?

Most dying people do not experience extreme pain and will get the help they need from their regular care teams. But around 4-10% of people experience pain that cannot be adequately alleviated. Others report intense suffering not necessarily connected to pain. This can include breathlessness, fear of choking and nausea. Others experience intense emotional distress. Many want to avoid losing autonomy and control at the end of life. Some say they fear being a burden on their family and carers. All want to avoid needless anguish, both for themselves and those they leave behind.

Sue Parker, who chose VAD in Victoiria, and family

How will I be assessed?

The assessment process for VAD is very strict, including three separate requests and sign-off from two independent doctors that the person meets all the eligibility criteria. If there are any doubts, a third doctor’s opinion will be sought.

It is essential that the request for VAD is voluntary. If doctors suspect a person is under pressure or being coerced, the process stops immediately.

A person can pause or stop their application at any time.

How long does the application take?

Applying for VAD is a complicated process with robust safeguards, and for this reason it takes time. Advice from Victoria and Western Australia, where VAD laws have been operating for several years, is to start the process as early as possible to avoid delays.

Applications can be accelerated if a person is extremely unwell – or is at risk of losing the capacity to make decisions. However, this is meant only for exceptional circumstances and it adds stress at an already challenging time. Starting early is best.

Can I seek VAD and still be looked after by palliative care?

Yes. Palliative care and VAD are not mutually exclusive and have the same aims – to relieve suffering. The two can, and do, work together to offer people choice at the end of life.

In Victoria and Western Australia, the vast majority of patients who elect an assisted death also receive high-quality palliative care, in the community and in palliative care units, until the very end.

For more information, visit the Go Gentle Australia website

Continue Reading

Read More