Catholic health and aged care services response to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act

Date: 11/06/2019

On 19 June, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (VAD) comes into effect in Victoria.

Since the Act’s passing in 2017, Catholic health and aged care services in Victoria have been working together to ensure that we have a clear and consistent response to the Act.

Our services are committed to excellent end-of-life care and have been serving the Australian community in end-of-life care for nearly 130 years. Our approach is in accordance with the Hippocratic tradition of medicine: when our patients are dying, we assist them to die in comfort and with dignity. We do this through commitments to:

  • heal and never to harm
  • relieve pain and other physical symptoms of illness and frailty
  • address psychological distress
  • withdraw life-prolonging treatments when they are medically futile or overly burdensome or when a person wants them withdrawn
  • never abandon patients

We do not consider that the prescription of a lethal substance to a person to help them end their own life, nor the administration of a lethal substance to a person by a health practitioner to end their life, are part of end-of-life care. Our position is consistent with the Australian Medical Association and the World Medical Association. It is these acts which will become legal under the name of VAD.

As such, when VAD comes into effect, our services will neither provide nor facilitate it. Our staff have always had open discussions with patients, residents and families, including discussions about their treatment and care at the end of life. That will not change. Each of our services has a system in place that will respond respectfully and compassionately to any questions about VAD. This includes coordinating transfer of care to other providers if a patient/resident wishes to seek VAD. We will not impede access to the provision of VAD elsewhere.

In preparing for the implementation of the Act, we have had an open line of communication with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and those responsible for the introduction of VAD in Victoria. They are fully informed of our response to this legislation. We appreciate their recognition of the promises made by the parliamentarians, that hospitals and other healthcare institutions will not be pressured into facilitating nor providing VAD. Our response aligns with relevant guidelines for non-participating services.

We remain concerned about the lack of adequate and timely access to excellent palliative care in Victoria. We continue to call for the Victorian Government to expand palliative care services so all Victorians – particularly those in rural and regional areas – can access its benefits.

This media statement is made jointly with Catholic Health Australia and its members including Cabrini Health, Calvary, Mercy Health, St John of God Health Care and Villa Maria Catholic Homes. 

About Catholic Health Australia

Catholic Health Australia is Australia’s largest non-government grouping of health, community, and aged care services accounting for around 10 percent of hospital-based healthcare in Australia. Our members also provide around 25 percent of private hospital care, 5 percent of public hospital care, 12 percent of aged care facilities, and 20 percent of home care and support for the elderly. 

Media enquiries: Samantha Robin, ph (03) 9508 3552 or 0400 175 355