Catholic Health Australia represents Australia’s Catholic hospitals and aged care providers and is one of the church and religious based groups choosing to “stand by their long history of providing palliative care” instead of offering the new VAD option, with Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Greenwood saying their cohort will “continue to care for people in the best way possible at their end of life”.
In total across Victoria alone, Ms Greenwood says Catholic Health Australia members have 3,100 residential care beds, 3,000 home care packages, and a further 1,100 independent living units and retirement units for older persons, and says none of the Catholic Health services will take part in VAD, but is offering support to anyone considering it.
“For Catholic palliative care providers, VAD is not a part of our practice and is not something that we can assist any person within their home, in our residential aged care facilities, or in our hospitals,” Ms Greenwood explains.
“For those who may choose to access VAD, we would explore the reasons for that but will not be changing the way in which Catholic services currently deliver compassionate palliative and end of life care; we will continue to optimise quality of life and support people and their families.
“Our care for people who are sick, frail, aged or disabled is founded on love and respect for the inherent dignity of every human being.
“What we provide is specialist palliative care which is oriented to caring for, and accompanying, a dying person and his or her carers in the final phase of life, upholding that person’s dignity and respecting his or her spiritual, physical, emotional and social needs - also encompassing the care for bereaved family and others.”
In her support of palliative care for those at the end of their life, Ms Greenwood encourages increased funding and support services when it comes to end of life care, and reflects on a comment she made two years ago before the Bill was passed.
In her comments from 9 November 2015, Ms Greenwood calls for society to dedicate a “greater level of resources to improving the living person’s ability to experience a meaningful period of life, leading to death, rather than accepting that the wish to suicide be the product of clarity, unaffected perspective and a mind free of mental illness.”
“Catholic Health Australia is a fierce advocate for accessible and affordable palliative care - Australia needs better funding models for palliative care, improved clinical training pathways for palliative care specialists to raise awareness of the benefits of palliative care in the community,” she says today.
“Palliative care improves the quality of life for patients by treating and relieving the suffering of the whole person, it addresses the physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
“It seems that two years later, all that has occurred is giving people an option of removing their pain by removing them, rather than making greater investment in how we can provide the greatest levels of support.”
Despite the VAD law being passed in Victoria and set to go through an 18-month implementation period before coming into effect from June 2019, providers like those under Catholic Health Australia cannot be mandated to provide assisted dying services. (link: https://www.agedcareguide.com.au/talking-aged-care/its-a-pass-for-victorias-voluntary-assisted-dying-legislation)
Ms Greenwood says Catholic Health Australia would support the right of any individual to conscientiously object to providing VAD services, adding it would not just be Catholic providers who would face a variety of challenges as VAD is introduced in Victoria.
“I believe all health and provider groups will face a variety of challenges as VAD is introduced in Victoria,” she says.
“Many people object to the concept of voluntarily ending a person’s life and so for staff of any healthcare facility, this will be a very confronting part of their work.
“For those people who may choose to access VAD, we would explore the reasons for that request, however we would not assist in any way.
“Catholic providers of health and aged care services will seek to ensure that staff and volunteers receive counselling and support required if a person they have been caring for makes such an irreversible decision to access VAD.”
Dying with Dignity Victoria President Lesley Vick says the organisation welcomes the introduction on the VAD into Victoria, and while acknowledging Catholic Health providers’ right to exercise the legislations, conscientious objection and decision to provide high quality palliative care instead, she says she hopes support will still be offered to those seeking to access VAD.
“We are obviously pleased that this has come to pass - it is something we have been advocating for for a long time and it is something that has overwhelming support here in Victoria,” Ms Vick says.
“It means that those that are terminally ill and at the end of their life or suffering, can have control and choice over their death and access the medication should they decide they need it.
“It’s a positive step in end of life care and we hope that while Catholic Health providers conscientiously object to assisting with VAD, that they will refer anyone wishing to access it to a doctor willing to help.”
She adds that Dying with Dignity supports palliative care as an end of life service and believe that everyone should have access to high quality palliative care.