Voluntary assisted dying is now legal in Tasmania but for some, the wait remains

It’s been a month since voluntary assisted dying became legal in Tasmania.

It followed years of debate, discussions and amendments to get the legislation through, and to get it right, with Tasmania the third state in Australia to allow voluntary assisted dying (VAD).

Under the list of requirements for access to VAD, a person must be assessed by two independent practitioners who have had the training.

But with only a small number of medical practitioners completing the training, the wait continues for some to access the service.

For Lola*, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, working through the system was a challenging process.

Her father was diagnosed with motor neurone disease earlier this year, and his health deteriorated rapidly.

She says his condition is now at the point where he needs help getting in and out of bed and is not even able to turn on light switches.

Learning voluntary assisted dying was going to become a possibility offered him some relief, with his goal of dying with dignity.

His family worked to find two medical practitioners who could handle his case.

They started a few weeks before the legislation took effect, but are still looking.

“With his illness, he ends up paralyzed,” said Lola.

“His quality of life is declining, so he had comfort in knowing that this legislation would come through in October.”

With her father’s regular family doctor unable to help because their workload prevented them from doing the additional training needed, Lola’s family spent hours finding alternative practitioners.

“We just put so much time and energy into trying to organize it, and instead we got nowhere,” she said.

“[It’s] we are concerned that by the time we do get someone who has done the training, that he may not be in a position to agree.”

Fourteen steps to access VAD

Under the legislation, Tasmanians can apply to access VAD if they are over 18 and suffer from an advanced, incurable and irreversible illness, disease, injury or medical condition for which there is no reasonably available treatment.

That condition should be expected to cause their death within six or 12 months, depending on the disease, and the person making the decision should be able to understand and evaluate the advice given to them around VAD, and that decision can communicate.

Then there are 14 steps a person who wants to access the service must go through, including finding two independent qualified practitioners willing to help with the process.

Doctors can complete specific VAD training in their own time and depending on their experience, it takes between five to 10 hours to complete.

The application must ultimately be sent to Tasmania’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Commission for a determination and, if approved, the commission prescribes the VAD substance.

Slow uptake is expected

The head of the Royal Australian College of GPs in Tasmania, Tim Jackson, said that unfortunately some people could miss out on the implementation of any new program or treatment.

He said the number of practitioners completing the training will increase over time and this will happen as more patients approach their doctors about the process.

“I realize it’s going to be upsetting for some people who want to access it now,” Dr Jackson said, “and that will always be the case – some people are going to miss out when something new starts.

“I think the most important thing is that it’s done thoroughly and safely.”

He said what happened in Victoria, where VAD came into effect in 2019, could provide guidance for what Tasmania could experience.

“Initially there was a trickle, but even after six months there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of GPs doing the training,” Dr Jackson said.

“We’re necessarily a conservative group, and we’re going to have some early adopters and then most people will see how things go, talk to their colleagues and also respond to patient inquiries.”

A health department spokesman said the Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Act 2021 was working as intended, with the specific training for medical practitioners released at the end of September, about a month before the laws came into force.

The department did not want to specify how many GPs had received training.

“A small number of medical practitioners have completed the training, with modeling from other Australian states offering access to voluntary assisted dying suggesting that the number of trained practitioners will be low initially but will increase over time,” a spokesperson said. said.

“Like any training, it takes time and commitment by those who complete it and the challenge of finding the time is recognized and appreciated.”

They said ongoing engagement with medical practitioners, including public briefings, continues.

For Lola’s family, it remains a waiting game, but they refuse to give up.

“We hope by pulling everyone together that we get somewhere,” she said.

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