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Physician attitudes to voluntary assisted dying

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Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) became legal in the Australian state of Victoria on 19 June 2019 and will be legal in Western Australia from 2021. Other Australian states are progressing similar law reform processes. In Australia and internationally, doctors are central to the operation of all legal VAD regimes. It is broadly accepted that doctors, as a profession, are less in favour of VAD law reform than the rest of the community. To date, there has been little analysis of the factors that motivate doctors’ support or opposition to legalised VAD in Australia.

Jodhi Rutherford, Sessional Lecturer in the QUT School of Law, has published a paper reviewing the attitudes of Australian doctors regarding the legislation, including their willingness to participate in it, as part of her PhD research.

Jodhi identified 19 studies, and performed a thematic analysis of quantitative and qualitative findings. Following this analysis, three overarching themes emerged:

  • Attitudes towards regulation – encompassed doctors’ orientation towards legalisation, the shortcomings of binary categories of support or opposition and doctors’ concerns about additional regulation of their professional practices.
  • Professional and personal impact of legislation – described tensions between palliative care and VAD, and the emotional and social impact of being providers of VAD.
  • Practical considerations regarding access – considered doctors’ concerns about eligibility criteria and their willingness to provide VAD.

Jodhi concludes that a detailed understanding of medical perspectives about VAD would facilitate the design of legislative models that take better account of doctors’ concerns. This may facilitate their greater participation in VAD and help address potential access issues arising from availability of willing doctors.

You can read Jodhi’s paper online at BMJ Journals.

About Jodhi Rutherford

Jodhi RutherfordJodhi is a Sessional Lecturer in the QUT School of Law and is a student member of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research and the End of Life research program. She has published articles in leading international medicine and law journals on voluntary assisted dying.

You can read more of Jodhi’s research on eprints.

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