Access to voluntary assisted dying increased during the second six months of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act’s first year of operation.
The Voluntary Assisted Dying Board’s third report covers the period from January to June 2020. There were 145 voluntary assisted dying permits issued during the period, compared with 86 permits during the first six months. Within the first year of operation, 124 terminally ill Victorians have accessed voluntary assisted dying to end their lives, 78 within the January-June 2020 period.
A total of 422 medical practitioners have now registered for the voluntary assisted dying training required to assess eligibility and provide support to Victorians who want to access voluntary assisted dying. The number of doctors who have completed the training increased by 15 per cent from the first six months.
The average age of people who have used voluntary assisted dying since the Act’s implementation in June 2019 is 71.
COVID-19 restrictions had impacted access to voluntary assisted dying consultations with doctors, the report says, with telehealth not an option due to a potential conflict with the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995.
‘With the ongoing requirement for face-to-face consultation in this process, the Board has received feedback that the current COVID-19 pandemic has created additional stress for people who are vulnerable and trying to self-isolate,’ the report says.
The Board repeated its call for the Federal Government to reconsider making an exemption from the Criminal Code Act to allow terminally ill Victorians, especially those in regional Victoria, to have conversations with their doctor about voluntary assisted dying over the phone or via teleconference.
However, The Age reported in September that federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said there were no plans to change the law and it remained the responsibility of the Victorian Government to ensure its laws comply with Commonwealth law.
Since the commencement of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act, the Statewide Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigator Service has provided support to 613 people seeking information about voluntary assisted dying.
Voluntary assisted dying is available to adult Victorians who have an incurable and advanced disease, illness or medical condition that is expected to cause death within six months (or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition) and are experiencing intolerable suffering.
Voluntary assisted dying applicants frequently said they feared loss of autonomy over their death. Wrote one applicant: ‘I wish to die in my own home and wish to have some control over my death. I do not wish to live as a vegetable in my own body. I have a condition for which there is no cure.’