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First Australian study of patient experience of Voluntary Assisted Dying process

Specially trained voluntary assisted dying care navigators have greatly improved access to assisted dying in Victoria, a patient experience study recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia  has found.

The study team, pictured above from left, Ruthie Jeanneret, Professor Ben White, Professor Lindy Willmott and Dr Eliana Close all from the Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR), interviewed 32 family caregivers and a patient about the features that helped or hindered their access to voluntary assisted dying (VAD).

“We conducted the study to shed light on people’s experiences seeking an assisted death as, until now, research had centred on doctors’ early VAD experience after Victoria became the first state to have VAD in 2019,” Professor White said.

The study found the main barriers patients encounter include:

  • Finding trained and willing doctors to assess their eligibility, including a doctor who specialises in the person’s condition.
  • Objections to VAD from hospitals, aged care and other health facilities who block assessment or access to VAD medication.
  • The time it took to go through the application process when time was of the essence for people in pain and whose death was near.
  • A prohibition on VAD telehealth consultations had caused pain, distress and considerable hardship, especially for patients who lived in regional areas and had to travel long distances to VAD assessment appointments.
  • Doctors not being allowed to initiate VAD conversations.

QUT PhD researcher Ruthie Jeanneret said the study found that patients felt well-supported once they had made contact with the system through a willing doctor or a VAD Care Navigator.

“From this study we make several recommendations to continue improving the VAD process for patients,” Ms Jeanneret said.

For these recommendations and to find out more, visit QUT news.

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