Summary

  • Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying law allows a person in the late stages of advanced disease to take a medication prescribed by a doctor that will bring about their death at a time they choose.
  • Access to voluntary assisted dying is limited to people who meet specific requirements.
  • There are several steps that must be followed to access voluntary assisted dying.
  • There are safeguards in place to make sure that voluntary assisted dying is the person’s own decision and that no one is pressuring them.

In 2017, legislation was passed to allow voluntary assisted dying in Victoria. Voluntary assisted dying will be available in Victoria from 19 June 2019.

Voluntary assisted dying means a person in the late stages of advanced disease can take a medication prescribed by a doctor that will bring about their death at a time they choose. Only people who meet the requirements and follow the steps set out in the law can access voluntary assisted dying. 

A person’s choice to access voluntary assisted dying must be:

  • voluntary (the person’s own choice)
  • continuing (their choice stays the same)
  • fully informed (the person is well-informed about their disease, and their treatment and palliative care options).

Most people will find palliative care and end of life services give them the support they need at the end of their life. Palliative care and end of life services help to improve the quality of life for people with advanced disease. They also provide support to their family and carers. 

But even with the best care, some people approaching the end of their life experience suffering that is unacceptable to them and may want to access voluntary assisted dying.

Some of these people will now have the choice to control the timing and manner of their death by taking medication that will bring about their death. 

What is voluntary assisted dying?

Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying law allows a person at the late stages of advanced disease to take a medication prescribed by a doctor that will bring about their death at a time they choose. 

Only people who meet the requirements and follow the steps set out in the law can access voluntary assisted dying. 

Who can access voluntary assisted dying?

People choosing to access voluntary assisted dying must meet the following requirements:

1. They must have an advanced disease that will cause their death and is:

  • likely to cause their death within six months (or within 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases like motor neurone disease) and
  • causing the person suffering that is unacceptable to them. 

2. They must have the ability to make a decision about voluntary assisted dying throughout the process. 

3. They must also:

  • be an adult 18 years or over
  • have been living in Victoria for at least 12 months
  • be an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

Can someone with a disability or mental illness access voluntary assisted dying?

People with a disability or mental illness who meet all of the requirements to access voluntary assisted dying have the same right to access voluntary assisted dying as other members of the community. However, having a disability or mental illness is not sufficient reason in itself for a person to access voluntary assisted dying. 

Can someone with dementia access voluntary assisted dying?

When dementia affects a person’s ability to make a decision about voluntary assisted dying, they will not meet the requirements to access voluntary assisted dying. To access voluntary assisted dying, a person needs to have the ability to make decisions throughout the process. 

Can a person request assisted dying in an advance care directive? 

A person cannot make a request for voluntary assisted dying in an advance care directive.

How does someone access voluntary assisted dying?

There are several steps to access voluntary assisted dying. This process makes sure only people who meet the requirements can access voluntary assisted dying. The steps are:

  1. Ask for information – Ask your doctor for information about voluntary assisted dying.
  2. First request – If you decide you want to access voluntary assisted dying, ask your doctor to help you access it. Tell them that you want to go through the steps that will allow you to access voluntary assisted dying.
  3. First assessment – A doctor will assess you to see if you meet the requirements.
  4. Second assessment – A second doctor will assess you to see if you meet the requirements.
  5. Written declaration –Complete a form requesting voluntary assisted dying.
  6. Final request – At least ten days (including weekends) after the first request, ask the first doctor to help you access voluntary assisted dying for the final time.
  7. Appoint a contact person – Appoint a person who will return unused medication to the pharmacy if you die before taking the medication, or decide not to take it.
  8. Doctor applies for a permit to prescribe the medication – The doctor will apply for a permit to prescribe the medication. This will allow either self-administration or practitioner administration of the medication.
  9. Receive the medication – Once the doctor has written the prescription, you will receive the medication.

Both of the doctors involved in the assessment process (Steps 3 and 4) must have completed approved training in assessing people for voluntary assisted dying. 

Each doctor must:

  • make sure that the person is fully informed about their disease, and their treatment and palliative care options
  • make sure that voluntary assisted dying is the person’s own choice
  • let the person know that they can change their mind about accessing voluntary assisted dying at any time. 

To make sure the decision is not rushed, the process to access voluntary assisted dying cannot be completed in less than 10 days, unless the person is expected to die within 10 days. 

How will a person take the medication?

In most cases, people will take the medication themselves, by swallowing it. If a person cannot swallow or cannot otherwise physically take the medication themselves, they can ask the doctor who first assessed their request to administer medication that will bring about their death. This request must be made in person. The doctor must then apply for a special permit to allow them to administer the medication.

Who can provide access to voluntary assisted dying?

Only a doctor can provide access to voluntary assisted dying. Other health practitioners, such as nurses, and residential aged care staff, can give support but cannot give the person access to the medication.

Can someone’s doctor suggest they access voluntary assisted dying?

No, it is against the law for a doctor to suggest a person accesses voluntary assisted dying. A doctor cannot talk about voluntary assisted dying unless the person raises it first. If the person asks about it, a doctor is then able to give information about voluntary assisted dying and can discuss it with them. 

Once a person has asked to access voluntary assisted dying, the doctor needs to follow the process set out in the law. During the process, they cannot persuade a person to access voluntary assisted dying. The doctor will remind them that they don’t have to go ahead if they change their mind along the way. 

Do all doctors or other health practitioners have to participate in voluntary assisted dying?

No, the law protects doctors and other health practitioners, such as nurses, who do not want to participate in voluntary assisted dying because they have a conscientious objection. This means they cannot be forced to:

  • provide information or support about voluntary assisted dying
  • assess a person for voluntary assisted dying
  • supply or give the medication used for voluntary assisted dying.

If a doctor or health practitioner does not want to discuss or participate in voluntary assisted dying, they may refer a person to another health practitioner who is able to give them information or assistance in relation to voluntary assisted dying. 

Can someone’s family member (or carer or friend) ask for voluntary assisted dying for them?

No, only the person choosing to access voluntary assisted dying can ask for it. This is an important part of making sure the person’s choice is voluntary. 

A person may ask their family, friends or carers to go with them when they visit the doctor. At the visit, the doctor may want to talk to the person on their own first, and then altogether with their family, friends or carers.

If a person has a medical treatment decision-maker, can that decision-maker ask for voluntary assisted dying?

No, only the person choosing to access voluntary assisted dying can ask for it. 

A medical treatment decision maker can make decisions about a person’s treatment only when a person cannot make a decision for themselves, for example, if they are unconscious. But a person accessing voluntary assisted dying needs to be able to make their own decisions throughout the process.

What if someone needs an interpreter or assistance with communication?

People who speak a language other than English, or need communication assistance because of a disability, can use an interpreter or people with skills in communication aids to ask for voluntary assisted dying. The interpreter must be independent and approved by a professional body. Family members cannot be interpreters. 

During the doctor’s visit, the interpreter can help the person to ask for voluntary assisted dying. They can also support the person to understand information given by the doctor. 

Can someone be pressured into accessing voluntary assisted dying?

There are strong safeguards to make sure a person’s choice to access voluntary assisted dying is their own choice, and that they are not pressured by others.

Only the person choosing to access voluntary assisted dying can ask for it. Their family, friends or carers cannot ask for them. Also, a doctor cannot suggest a person accesses voluntary assisted dying. They can only respond when a person asks for it. 

As part of the process to access voluntary assisted dying, two doctors must decide the person is well-informed about their disease and their treatment and palliative care options. Both doctors have to assess that no-one is forcing or influencing them to do this. Both of these doctors must have completed approved training in assessing a person for voluntary assisted dying. 

Even after a person has started the process, they can change their mind at any time. A person cannot complete the steps to access voluntary assisted dying in less than 10 days, except in some very special circumstances. 

Is voluntary assisted dying an alternative to palliative care?

Voluntary assisted dying is not an alternative to palliative care services. Palliative care and end of life services are widely available in Victoria. Most people who access voluntary assisted dying will be supported by palliative care and end of life services and will be encouraged to receive this support if they are not already using these services.

Who will oversee Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying law?

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board will oversee voluntary assisted dying in Victoria. The Board will make sure the law provides a compassionate outcome while addressing the concerns of the community. It will review every case of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria and make suggestions for changes or improvements in the law. 

There are also other organisations, such as Victoria Police, the Coroner and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency that make sure that laws and professional standards are observed.

Will there be more information available before June 2019 for people considering voluntary assisted dying?

Yes, detailed information is currently being written for people considering voluntary assisted dying. This information will explain more about the process for accessing voluntary assisted dying and the support available. It will be available in early 2019, before voluntary assisted dying becomes available from 19 June 2019. 

I find end of life issues distressing – who can I talk to?

Some people find it upsetting to think about their death and end of life care. If reading this information has raised issues of grief, stress or personal crisis, contact one of the services listed below.

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Palliative Care, Health Service Policy and Commissioning, Department of Health & Human Services

Last updated: September 2018

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