Assurances about VAD safety

Dr Stephanie Short, Peninsula resident and VAD advocate

Forum –

I write in response to the letter from Linda Telisman, ‘Rejecting the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill’ (Oct 7).

The Central Coast Group of Dying with Dignity NSW welcomes open, informed and respectful debate about the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 tabled in the NSW Parliament by Alex Greenwich, the Independent Member for Sydney.

The Vote Compass result reveals overwhelming support for Voluntary Assisted Dying on the Woy Woy Peninsula.

VAD will allow eligible individuals who are already dying the right to do so safely with medical support and care.

NSW is now the last state in Australia to consider this legislation.

On the one hand we have been denied the right to have this choice at the end of life.

On the other hand, we have the opportunity to learn from the reviews, debates and experience in all the other states.

Victoria was the first state to pass this legislation in 2017 and we now have data from two years’ experience in Victoria, since June 2019.

We know now that only 400 people have exercised this right.

In a two-year period this constitutes just 1 per cent of deaths in Victoria.

This is similar to data from Canada and other countries with VAD laws.

Telehealth provisions have been introduced for two reasons.

First, because many specialist doctors, such as oncologists and neurologists, do not make home visits, and secondly to provide access to VAD to terminally ill patients in outer metropolitan, rural and remote areas who have difficulty accessing the necessary general practitioner and other specialist medical care.

In Victoria the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board oversees the safe operation of the new law, so it is not appropriate or necessary to involve the coroner.

This means that vulnerable people experience safer end-of-life care and medical oversight than before the law was put in place.

I also want to assure you that the Bill recognises the right of doctors, nurses and pharmacists not to be actively involved in this VAD process if they have conscientious objections.

Most importantly I want to emphasise that one does not need to make a choice between VAD and palliative care.

If a person is planning to have VAD, they can continue to receive palliative care.

Likewise, if they are receiving palliative care, they are entitled to explore the idea of an assisted death or request VAD.

Palliative care and VAD are twin components of high quality medically supervised end-of-life care.

Email, Oct 7
Stephanie Short, Woy Woy