Heathcote Health has new role with assisted suicide

By McIvor Times

THE Voluntary Assisted Dying Act (2017) comes in to effect today. Victoria is the first state to allow a person in the late stages of advanced disease, to take medication prescribed by a doctor, that will bring about their death at a time they choose.

Between March 1996 and March 1997, voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide were legal in the Northern Territory under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (NT). However, in 1997 the Australian Government intervened, abolishing the Act.

Only people who meet all the conditions and follow the process set out in the Victorian law can access the voluntary assisted dying medication.

Heathcote Health clinical services director Gerry Canny said Heathcote Health does not coordinate voluntary assisted dying, but acts as an information and support service.

“We are classified as Pathway C organisation,” Mr Canny said. “The Department of Health has set three different pathways that supporting Victorian health services can participate.

“These are Pathway C (Information and Support Service); Pathway B (Partnership Service); and Pathway A (Single Service).

Mr Canny added access to voluntary assisted dying in Victoria is limited to people with an advanced disease.

“The person must be a Victorian resident of at least 12 months, aged 18 or older, with a disease that is expected to cause death within six months. For neurodegenerative diseases, death must be expected within 12 months”.

He said that while patients can approach staff for help, staff are not under obligation to provide information.

“We may have some staff who, for complex and private reasons, do not want to be involved. If they are approached for information or advice, they will find someone with whom a conversation can be had”.

Mr Canny said that information on voluntary assisted dying is widely available online, particularly the Victorian Department of Heath’s website.

“In the first instance, this is where we will direct people to,” Mr Canny said.

He added that eligibility criteria for voluntary assisted dying is very strict and that there is a three-stage request process.

“The law has many safeguards to make sure that it is the person’s own decision and that no one is under any pressure to access voluntary assisted dying”.