Victoria was the first state in Australia to legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) in 2020. Since then, all other states have followed suit. As a heavily regulated area of the law, there is currently much discussion of these issues.
Euthanasia vs. Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD)
If an illness is prolonged or causes pain or intolerable symptoms, some people think about ending their suffering. Where euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending the life of a person with an incurable condition or illness, VAD is when a person ends their own life with the help of a doctor. It means administering medication for the purpose of causing death, in accordance with the legal steps and processes.
VAD is for people who meet strict criteria. It is legal in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania, and will commence in Queensland and South Australia in January 2023 and New South Wales in November 2023.
At the time of publication (2023), euthanasia and VAD are under review in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory and until approved, remain illegal. In those jurisdictions, a person (e.g. a doctor or family member) who assists another person to die may be charged with murder, manslaughter or assisting with suicide.
Who can legally access Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD)?
VAD is only available to people who are experiencing unbearable suffering from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition. This must be assessed by two medical practitioners as expected to cause death within six months. (There is one exception for a person suffering from a neurodegenerative condition, where the condition must be expected to cause death within 12 months, instead of six).
The law varies in each Australian state. For example, VAD is only available to Victorians who are over the age of 18 who have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months, and are still able to make their own medical decisions. To be eligible, they must be experiencing intolerable suffering that can not be relieved.
(Mental illness or disability alone are not grounds for access to voluntary assisted dying, but people who meet all other criteria, and who have a disability or mental illness, will not be denied access to VAD).
Things to consider
There is compassion and power in choice
For some people facing a terminal diagnosis, voluntary assisted dying laws are about choice, compassion and control - particularly for people who have already had so much stolen from them by their illness. The ability to choose when and how they take their final breath is, for many, a source of comfort and empowerment - even if they never end up acting on it.
Change of heart and mind
Regardless of the law, some terminally ill people may decide they want to die sooner rather than later but may change their mind down the line. They may have thought that dying sooner was the best way forward because they were in pain, scared, or concerned about being a burden on others.
If this is how you feel, talk to a doctor, counsellor or psychologist you are comfortable with. Sometimes, these feelings are due to depression, or because pain or other symptoms are not well controlled. It is important that you speak to your healthcare team about any physical or emotional symptoms that are causing pain or distress, and discuss ways to make your end-of-life care more comfortable and as pain-free as possible.
VAD is only available for those who face an inevitable, imminent death as a result of an incurable disease, illness or medical condition. Where VAD is typically administered by the person who is suffering, euthanasia is the practice of ending the life of a patient (usually administered by someone else to alleviate suffering).
VAD is currently legal in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania and will commence in Queensland and South Australia in January 2023 and New South Wales in November 2023.
- The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act (2017) provides a safe legal framework for people who are suffering and dying to choose how and when they die.
- Queensland University of Technology’s End of Life Law in Australia provides accurate and practical information for individuals, families, health and legal practitioners, the media, policymakers and the broader community about Australian laws regarding death, dying and end-of-life decisions. Up-to-date information for all Australian states and territories can be found here.
- If you are looking into euthanasia or VAD for yourself or for someone you love, talk to your GP or healthcare practitioner for more information.
Support and further information
Reading about end-of-life care can be upsetting. The helplines below provide free, confidential telephone support and counselling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement – call 1800 642 066
Lifeline - 13 11 14
If you are looking to get your end-of-life affairs in order, the team at Willed can help. Start your legal Will today at willed.com.au or call 1300 945 533 to speak with a dedicated funeral arranger about preplanning your cremation.