Tasmania’s voluntary assisted dying laws have come into effect - The role of advance care planning in the context of voluntary assisted dying

New voluntary assisted dying laws have recently come into effect in Tasmania.  

A person is eligible to access voluntary assisted dying (VAD) in Tasmania if they meet all the eligibility criteria. These relate to age, residency, medical requirements, voluntariness, and decision-making capacity. 

As reported by ABC News, under the legislation, Tasmanians over the age of 18 who are suffering from an advanced, incurable, and irreversible disease, illness, injury, or medical condition for which there is no reasonably available treatment can apply for voluntary assisted dying. 

The person making the decision must be able to understand and evaluate the advice given to them around voluntary assisted dying and be able to communicate their decision.  

Find out more about Voluntary Assisted Dying laws and processes in Tasmania. 

Voluntary assisted dying laws in other states 

Voluntary assisted dying laws have previously been introduced in Victoria and Western Australia.  

New voluntary assisted dying laws are still yet to come into effect in the remaining Australian states: 

  • South Australia – 31 January 2023 
  • Queensland – 1 January 2023 
  • New South Wales – 28 November 2023 

Voluntary assisted dying has not been legalised in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory as Commonwealth laws currently prevent the Territories from legislating on voluntary assisted dying. 

The role of advance care planning and palliative care in voluntary assisted dying  

Advance care planning (ACP) and palliative care are known to improve end-of-life care and should be priority considerations for individuals with life-limiting illnesses, their families and health professionals regardless of where they live across Australia. 

While the concepts of advance care planning and voluntary assisted dying are frequently confused in the community, they are two distinct and separate processes. Voluntary assisted dying enables a person to access medication and to legally choose the manner and timing of their death. Advance care planning gives a person the opportunity to express their future medical treatment and care preferences if they cannot make speak or make decisions for themselves as they approach their end of life. 

Advance care planning provides individuals with a sense of control when living with chronic or progressive disease, cancer, dementia, or they are just getting older. 

Only 15 per cent of Australians have documented their future preferences in an advance care directive. 

So many people are still leaving others to make their future medical decisions, often without guidance, at a time when the community is seeking greater choice and autonomy over their own care. 

Some important advance care planning considerations concerning voluntary assisted dying include: 

  • voluntary assisted dying laws require that the person has decision-making capacity – from the time of request through to the final act 
  • an advance care directive only comes into effect when the person loses decision-making capacity and should be respected  
  • an advance care directive can include instructions to refuse, consent to or withdraw from treatment 
  • a person cannot make a request for voluntary assisted dying in their advance care directive 
  • a person’s substitute decision-maker is not permitted to request voluntary assisted dying on behalf of a loved one
  • voluntary assisted dying should not be considered a substitute for quality end-of-life care, which includes advance care planning and palliative care 
  • in the context of a person making a request for voluntary assisted dying, ready access to advance care planning and quality palliative care is essential. 

In countries and jurisdictions where voluntary assisted dying is legal, eligibility criteria are restrictive, meaning it is ultimately an option for a few. Advance care planning is and remains accessible and relevant to all adults – regardless of health status or age.  

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