When will voluntary assisted dying become legal?
So what does this mean for those who have loved ones currently in palliative care? It will not bring on an immediate change, as the South Australian government expects it will take about 18 months for the new voluntary assisted dying laws to come into force. When this happens, eligible South Australians can legally get medical assistance to end their life.
Who is eligible for voluntary assisted dying?
To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying, the patient must:
- be over eighteen years of age;
- be an Australian Citizen who has lived in South Australia for at least 12 months;
- have a terminal diagnosis that is deemed incurable, certain to cause death and causes unbearable suffering;
- have a life expectancy of less than six months;
- have the capacity to make decisions, and
- be capable of understanding informed consent.
What Safeguards will be in place to protect the vulnerable?
Access to voluntary assisted dying will be very limited under the legislation and will only be available to those individuals who fit the above pre-requisites and successfully pass the stringent requirements such as assessments by registered medical professionals. South Australia’s approach to voluntary assisted dying is among the most conservative in the world and includes some 70 safeguards.
These safeguards are put in place to minimise the exploitation of voluntary assisted dying and to ensure that it is used only as a last resort.
Patients who wish to access medical assistance to end their life will need to be assessed by two independent doctors within a prescribed period.
If the two doctors agree that voluntary assisted dying is appropriate then this is then ticked off by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, which will oversee all cases.
The patient will then sign a formal declaration in front of the doctor, two witnesses and a contact person.
It is important to note that voluntary assisted dying is an individual’s decision alone. Another person cannot coerce or make this decision for the patient. Even after the formal decision to undergo an assessment for voluntary assisted dying is made, the patient is not under any obligation to continue with it if they change their mind.
Voluntary Assisted Dying and Advance Care Directives
As Voluntary Assisted Dying is not yet legal in South Australia, it is illegal to make any request, wish or desire for voluntary assisted dying. The Advance Care Directive Act 2013 in its current form prevents an individual from making any requests that would be unlawful and cause a medical professional to contravene their professional standard.
Once the voluntary assisted dying laws come into force, there will be nothing to prevent an individual from making a wish for voluntary assisted dying. However, it needs to be carefully worded in accordance with the impending legislative changes to the Advance Care Directive Act.
If you are thinking about creating or amending your Advance Care Directive to include a clause about voluntary assisted dying, you should obtain legal advice first.
Our experienced team at Hume Taylor & Co are happy to help you with any questions relating to the Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation and assist you with your Advance Care Directives.