Voluntary Assisted Dying: What lawyers want you to know

This year, 140 South Aussies are expected to access Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD). 

So what is VAD, how does it work, and what are the legal implications? 

What is VAD?

VAD in South Australia is a pathway that adults can access if they have an incurable, advanced, progressive and terminal illness, disease or medical condition. 

The person must have a life expectancy of less than 6 months, or less than 12 months for neurodegenerative diseases. 

The person must also be able to understand and be able to communicate their desire the access the VAD pathway. Their participation must be entirely voluntary, with no coercion. This means that the person’s substitute decision-makers appointed under their Advance Care Directive (ACD) are not able to access or authorise VAD on the person’s behalf, even if this is a stated wish or direction in the ACD. 

VAD itself is defined as the administration of a VAD substance and associated steps. 

How does VAD work?

VAD allows eligible terminal patients who have mental capacity to access a dignified death at a time and place that they prefer. It allows them to take some control over their own death if they have lost all quality of life. 

The VAD process requires two doctors (a coordinating doctor and a consulting doctor) to assess that the patient is eligible to access VAD. 

After the assessment, the patient must sign a voluntary declaration that they wish to access VAD. They must also nominate a contact person, typically a family member or close friend. 

The coordinating doctor will then apply for either a self-administration permit (if the patient is physically capable of administering the substance) or a practitioner administration permit (if the patient is physically incapable). 

How do I access VAD?

If you are eligible to access VAD, you must make a request to a doctor to start the process. 

The request must be voluntary and communicated by you. It must not be prompted or initiated by someone else. 

Your doctor will then start the process by acting as your coordinating doctor (if they are VAD-trained), or by referring you to a trained coordinating doctor. 

What do I need to look out for?

The legislation requires you to make the initial enquiry about accessing VAD. It is important that your family members do not make the request on your behalf, even if it is what you want. The VAD legislation is very concerned to avoid coercion of or influence over a vulnerable patient. 

The legislation also requires that your coordinating and consulting doctors and the witnesses to your voluntary declaration must not be beneficiaries under your Will. 

And your contact person has certain responsibilities, including to return any remaining VAD substance once you have passed away. This means it is best to choose someone who knows you well and has access to the place you live. 

When might I need legal help?

As lawyers, we are experienced with navigating legal frameworks and legislative requirements. We are also trained in preparing and witnessing legal documents. 

We can help you understand how the VAD process works and can witness documents required for the process, such as your voluntary declaration. 

We can also help you get your affairs in order by preparing comprehensive estate planning documents. These documents are important to ensure things run smoothly if you lose capacity or pass away. 

If the introduction of VAD has got you thinking about your end-of-life wishes, we can help you put in place an Advance Care Directive to give you and your family some certainty. Call us on 1300 654 590 or email us now to discuss your options.

 

The information contained in this post is current at the date of editing – 7 March 2023.

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