250 NSW Doctors Apply to Become Euthanasia Practitioners

Religious aged care providers say VAD will become an ‘intolerable corruption’ to the service.
250 NSW Doctors Apply to Become Euthanasia Practitioners
Smoke haze is seen over Clovelly cemetery on December 10, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Alfred Bui

Over 200 doctors in New South Wales (NSW) have signed up to receive permission to conduct voluntary assisted dying (VAD) for incurable patients.

This comes as VAD will officially become legal in the Australian state from Nov. 28.

In May 2022, NSW became the last Australian state to legalise VAD after the state parliament ratified a relevant bill following a long period of heated debate.

Under the law, adult patients who have at least one advanced and progressive disease or illness and are likely to die within six months while enduring intolerable suffering can apply to receive VAD.

However, the patients must have the mental capacity to make the decision and act voluntarily without pressure or duress when applying for the procedure.

In late September, NSW Health held a conference to provide information about VAD to around 700 healthcare workers and community members in preparation for the law to take effect in November.

At the conference, healthcare workers listened to the experience of VAD experts from other states and learned about the process of becoming an authorised VAD practitioner.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told the Sydney Morning Herald that around 250 clinicians had signed up for the state’s VAD program.

The process will involve mandatory training that every doctor has to go through.

However, Ms. Chant noted that there were strict eligibility requirements for participants and that her department would only accredit senior clinicians.

At the same time, the chief health officer said one of the challenges to the VAD program was to ensure that the procedure was available to regional and rural patients.

“Voluntary assisted dying will be a lawful option, but we are also trying to make it clear that we are embedding it with end-of-life care,” she said.

Religious Healthcare Providers Offer Life-Affirming Choices

As the VAD law is about to take effect in November, NSW health authorities will require all healthcare operators in the state to provide the procedure to patients if they require it.

This has resulted in strong objections from Christian-related health organisations as they find that the requirement contradicts their religious belief.

According to a report (pdf) by Sydney Diocesan Services, the Anglican Archbishop had established a working group to consider whether Anglican health service providers, such as Anglicare Sydney, could follow the state government’s requirements without violating its theological principles.

Following the working group’s findings, the board of Anglicare Sydney decided not to provide VAD at its residential aged care homes.

Anglicare updated its resident/service agreements and contracts to confirm that the healthcare operator would not provide direct VAD services.

It also prohibited its staff from initiating discussions, providing information or taking any active part in a resident’s VAD process.

“Anglicare Sydney will offer and support life-affirming choices for residents and provide chaplaincy support to residents and their family/friends, respecting their right to choose, thereby supporting them with maintaining their dignity through respecting their choice if and when a VAD decision has been made,” the report said.

The report also warned that church-run facilities might have to exit the healthcare industry due to concerns that VAD could become so morally corrupt.

“If Anglicare continues in Residential Aged Care at this time, it should be recognised that the existence of VAD may well become an intolerable corruption to the service, thus precipitating the need for withdrawal from residential aged care provision in the future,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Catholic Health Australia also decided to take a minimal compliance approach to VAD laws in NSW.

“VAD is not consistent with the care we provide. As a result, our NSW members will not facilitate VAD at any of their facilities,” a spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

While the spokesman said Catholic Health Australia staff would respond in “a respectful and compassionate manner” to patients demanding VAD, he noted that the healthcare operator would not change the end-of-life care provided to those patients.

Alfred Bui is an Australian reporter based in Melbourne and focuses on local and business news. He is a former small business owner and has two master’s degrees in business and business law. Contact him at [email protected].
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