The Department of Health and Human Services has held a conference for health professionals to guide them in what to do if patients ask about voluntary assisted dying.
With voluntary assisted dying legislation becoming operational from 19 June, nurses and doctors need to know that the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 prohibits them from initiating conversations with patients about accessing voluntary assisted dying.
At the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Implementation Conference, held at ANMF (Vic Branch) on 8-10 May, nurses and doctors were also reminded of the strict criteria for accessing voluntary assisted dying in Victoria.
They were given guidance in how to have exploratory, non-leading conversations with terminally ill patients who appear to broach the subject of voluntary assisted dying. If terminally ill patients are sure they want assistance with dying they need to first make a clear and unambiguous request to a medical practitioner.
Nurses who provide end of life care should be prepared to respond to these requests.
A video on the Department of Health and Human Services website provides an example of a conversation between a nurse and a patient with motor neurone disease who talks about her suffering and asks about assistance with dying.
Health practitioners can conscientiously object to voluntary assisted dying and are under no obligation to participate. However Professor Margaret O’Connor, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on voluntary assisted dying, told health practitioners at the conference if they conscientiously object to voluntary assisted dying they need to think about what that means for them in practice.
‘Does it mean you won’t provide information about voluntary assisted dying?’ Professor O’Connor asked.
Only coordinating and consulting medical practitioners have prescribed roles in the voluntary assisted dying process under the Act.
Palliative clinical nurse practitioner Tanya Burr addressed the conference about Quebec’s experience of implementing medical assistance in dying (MAID) since legislation passed in November 2015.
Ms Burr said that initial conversations around dying would not often involve patients directly asking for assistance with dying.
It was important for health practitioners to ‘hold the space’ and ensure patients know they are safe to have the conversation if or when they want to.
If the link above fails to work, please copy and paste this link into your browser https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/hospitals-and-health-services/patient-care/end-of-life-care/voluntary-assisted-dying