Voluntary assisted dying laws being enacted in South Australia

Person holding hands with patient in hospital

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021  (the Act) will commence in South Australia on 31 January 2023. 

All South Australians are entitled to high-quality end of life and palliative care, regardless of their medical diagnosis, age, culture, background, beliefs or where they live. 

The introduction of safe, accessible and compassionate voluntary assisted dying (VAD) will give eligible South Australians with a terminal illness choice at the end of life. 

The process will enable eligible people to voluntarily access and self-administer, or in some circumstances have a medical practitioner administer, a medication that will cause their death, in accordance with the steps and process set out in the Act. 

New information for people considering voluntary assisted dying 

Find out more about the eligibility criteria, pathway, communication supports and other resources available to help you make decisions at end of life.   

Voluntary assisted dying laws in other states   

South Australia is the fifth jurisdiction to have VAD laws come into effect after Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.   

New voluntary assisted dying laws are still yet to come into effect in New South Wales on 28 November 2023.   

Voluntary assisted dying has not been legalised in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory as, until recently, Commonwealth laws prevented 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 all 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 who has full decision-making capacity and meets other strict eligibility criteria, 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 for a time when they cannot speak or make decisions for themselves as they approach their end of life.   

Advance care planning helps to provide individuals with a sense of control when living with chronic or progressive disease, cancer, dementia, or they are just getting older. Palliative care may be a preference that people choose, or are offered, to support them through a life-limiting illness and quality end-of-life care should be provided to all.   

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    

  • a person cannot make a request for voluntary assisted dying in their advance care directive  

  • an advance care directive can include instructions to refuse, consent to or withdraw from treatment   

  • a person’s substitute decision-maker is not permitted to request voluntary assisted dying on behalf of the person 

  • 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 mean 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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