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Voluntary assisted dying laws in Australia explained

Voluntary assisted dying, also known as VAD, has caused a lot of discussion in Australia for a number of years as more States and Territories debate the issue and put in place laws.

Last updated: June 8th 2022
Older man receiving news for a doctor
Each State that has VAD legislation has slightly different criteria around how assisted dying works in its jurisdiction. [Source: iStock]

Key points:

  • Voluntary assisted dying is only operating in two States currently, with another four States having voted to support it but laws are yet to be rolled out
  • The laws slightly differ between each State and you should have an understanding of the criteria for where you live
  • If you have dementia, it doesn't necessarily mean you can access VAD, as you need to have decision-making capacity

All States in Australia have legislation or have just passed legislation about legalising voluntary assisting dying. Currently, voluntary assisting dying is still illegal in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory.

However, VAD legislation can differ from State to State, and it is important to have an understanding of the voluntary assisted dying laws in your location if you are considering it for yourself.

Assisted dying is a difficult topic to approach with friends and family, and is a big decision to make for yourself.



What is voluntary assisted dying?

Voluntary assisted dying allows you to decide when you die by taking VAD medication if you have a life-limited disease or illness that will cause you to suffer pain nearing your death.

Each State that has VAD legislation has slightly different criteria around how assisted dying works in its jurisdiction.

There are two different forms of VAD in Australia, however, both require assistance from a medical professional to end your life.

You can either self-administer, where you are provided VAD medication and take this medication yourself, or there is practitioner administration, where a health practitioner administers the VAD medication to you.

The most important part of VAD is the 'voluntary' terminology. The decision to access VAD means you must have capacity to make this decision for yourself.

Different laws in Australia

In the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, VAD is still illegal.

A medical professional who assists someone to die in these Territories can be charged by the police for assisting suicide, murder, or manslaughter.

Victoria and Western Australia both have active laws and currently provide VAD to their constituents.

Voluntary assisted dying is currently still illegal in Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales until their laws come into effect from late 2022 to late 2023.

The general VAD rules across these States are:

You must be:

  • 18 or over
  • Be a citizen or permanent resident of Australia (and potentially live in Australia for at least 3 years before making your first request) and be a resident of the State for at least 12 months
  • Your diagnosis must be "incurable", "advanced, "progressive" or "will cause death"
  • Will cause your death within six months or within 12 months if it is a neurodegenerative disease or condition
  • Have full capacity to make decisions and understand the consequences of VAD
  • Is causing you pain that cannot be made tolerable through any relieving methods
  • You have made the decision on accessing VAD and have not been coerced
  • You have an "enduring request" for VAD

If you are old, have a disability or mental illness, it does not make you eligible for VAD, you need to meet the above criteria.

Only you can make the decision to go through the VAD process, your decision-maker, family or friends cannot request this process on your behalf. Nor can your doctor suggest VAD to you, they can only discuss this option if you ask about it.

There are slight differences between each State regarding assisted dying laws, so it is important you check the law for where you live.

You can find the full rundown of State to State VAD laws on the End of Life Law in Australia website.

Assessment process

Generally, you will need to be assessed by at least two medical practitioners - this involves a coordinating practitioner and a consulting practitioner - to be found eligible for VAD.

You will also need to make three requests to access VAD.

The practitioners you will speak to will make sure you fully understand the VAD process and what it will mean for you, and ensure you have access to information on alternative options before continuing.

If both practitioners agree you are eligible, you will need to make a final request to the coordinating practitioner, which is the first practitioner you saw for assessment, for VAD.

You will have a final review with your first practitioner and they will confirm that you have made requests and gone through the assessment process for VAD. You will then need to put in place a contact person, which could be family or a close friend.

At any time during this process, you can decide not to go through with VAD.

You can find more information about the assessment process on the End of Life Law in Australia website.

Aged care and assisted dying

If you live in an aged care home, your provider may refuse to participate in your VAD, which is their right, however, they do have some obligations they need to follow.

In Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, a nursing home can decide how involved they want to be with the VAD process.

Whereas, South Australia and Queensland do not have to participate but they do need to ensure you can access the VAD process.

Usually, this means allowing access to the facility for a health professional and witness to meet with you or transfer you to a place to:

  • make the VAD request
  • assessments for voluntary dying
  • administering the VAD medication

VAD and dementia

The biggest safeguard for older people potentially wanting to access VAD is that they need to have decision-making capacity.

If you have a form of dementia, you may not be able to access VAD.

You need to have a firm understanding of assisted dying and what it means, if you have lost capacity to make decisions for yourself, you may not be eligible.

Dementia can be a progressive disease and take time to develop, by the time you may require VAD you may no longer have capacity to make that decision.

However, if you have a separate illness that limits your life or will cause unnecessary pain and you still have decision-making capacity while living with dementia, you may meet the eligible criteria to access VAD.

Why have you decided to go through the voluntary assisted dying process? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Top health concerns for older people
The difference palliative care can make in the dying process
Mentally preparing for death and dying
What should you specify in your Advance Care Directive?

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