Our December 2023 News update

With your help, we made history. Voluntary assisted dying (VAD) is now available to terminally ill people in NSW

On Tuesday 28 November 2023, it became possible to apply for VAD in NSW. It was an emotional day as we reflected on the many challenges we had faced through 50 years of advocacy and the relief we felt once the law finally passed. We marked the day at NSW Parliament with some of the incredible volunteers who helped our campaign and those brave MPs who supported the VAD laws. We also remembered those advocates who have died but fought so bravely so that others would have the right to an assisted death.

In the three weeks since VAD implementation, we understand that a handful of people have used the new law and a number of others have commenced the process. It is early days and teething problems are inevitable but we will try our hardest to monitor cases as we become aware of them.  

Vital media coverage to raise awareness of VAD implementation

We wanted to get as much press coverage as possible to ensure that the community and healthcare workers are aware of the new laws. We were delighted with the level of interest, with coverage on TV, radio and print media, featuring some of our key campaigners. We are so grateful to them and their families for sharing such deeply personal stories with the public. You can view some of the coverage here:

Press conference: Channel 7 YouTube

Mark Butler: ABC News

Janet Cohen and Jacque Hooper: Sydney Morning Herald

Scott Riddle: The Guardian

Cathy Barry: Channel 9 News 


How to apply for voluntary assisted dying in New South Wales and the VAD Care Navigator Service

The regime has now been operative for a couple of weeks and NSW Health have had a busy time dealing with an initial surge of requests for VAD and for information from patients and clinicians. We have helped facilitate some urgent requests from people who are near their end and want to access VAD as soon as possible.

Now that things are settling down we wanted to share the information you will need if you, or someone you are caring for, wants to begin the VAD process.  

For most people, the first port of call will be their treating doctor(s). However, we know that many doctors are not authorised VAD providers and some may not be supportive of VAD. 

If your own doctor(s) are not able to help, you can contact the NSW VAD Care Navigator Service who are trained health professionals who can help you find a doctor, answer your questions and support you through each step of the process. Here are their details:   

The NSW Health VAD website has information on the steps involved in making a request for VAD - see here. They have also produced a detailed patient guide with the nuts and bolts of the process. It is a vital resource for anyone actively seeking VAD - Read NSW Health VAD Patient Guide

Things to remember:

  • Don’t delay: The process can take some weeks to complete so it is important to start the process early and make sure you have all the relevant documents and medical records available to minimise delays and stress.
  • Keep us posted We are very keen to hear from people who have applied for VAD, or plan to do so. This will help us monitor how the regime is working and alert us to any problems. You can email [email protected] or call Shayne Higson on 0428 326 358.

Griefline - Free Grief and Bereavement Support for Family and Friends of those using VAD

Dealing with grief can be very challenging at the best of times. Experience from other states has shown that the death of a loved one who uses VAD can raise some unique issues for those left behind, both before and after death. This has led to families and friends seeking support from those who are familiar with the VAD process.  

With Victoria having the first VAD law, Dying with Dignity Victoria have partnered with Griefline to develop some VAD specific resources and run support groups to connect those who have experienced VAD with a loved one. These are available to residents in all states and territories.

Griefline also provides free and confidential telephone support staffed by trained counsellors, for anyone experiencing loss or grief.

If you are struggling with these issues we urge you to make contact with Griefline using the following links:

Doctor Rodney Syme - A Completed Life

Many of you will be familiar with the late Dr Rodney Syme who played such a pivotal role in achieving VAD laws in this country. Prior to his death in October 2021, Rodney was working on a new book highlighting the plight of people with dementia, and his suggestions for further legislative change. While there is little prospect of VAD becoming available to those who lack decision-making capacity in the near future, our community faces a huge burden of disease from dementia and many in the community feel strongly the VAD should be an option.

Dying with Dignity Victoria have self published Rodney’s book “A Completed Life” which is available for purchase through their webstore (in paperback or e-book) - click here to buy a copy

In other news

VAD and Telehealth - the “carriage service” problem: In very disappointing news, the Federal Court recently ruled that discussions about VAD via telephone, email or telehealth might breach federal laws about using a “carriage service” to encourage or incite suicide. This is a blow to terminally ill people, especially those living in rural and regional areas. You can read more here and also here

New Podcast Series - VAD in Australia:  The Australian Centre for Health Law Research at QUT has played a vital role in the passage and operation of VAD laws in Australia and providing valuable resources on the complex laws surrounding end of life. Led by Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott their advice and research on VAD has been and will continue to be invaluable to the healthcare and legal sectors, policy makers and the community. Their team have recently produced a 10 episode podcast series featuring experts discussing their research on key aspects of VAD. You can access the “Learn Me Right - VAD Series” podcast here 

Last but

Last but not least, we have a funding shortfall and hope you can help us

We have ended the year with a small financial loss and need just $7,500 to break even and ensure that we can fully implement our plans, now that the VAD laws are up and running in NSW. These include: 

  • Continuing our training sessions for volunteers to act as independent witnesses for people seeking to use VAD.
  • Finding out which aged care providers in NSW will support their residents accessing VAD and creating an interactive map showing their positions.
  • Creating a directory of End of Life Doulas and other professionals involved in end-of-life care who support VAD.
  • Continuing our efforts to recruit more doctors to become VAD providers.

All donations, large or small, will make a difference to our ability to protect your end-of-life rights. As a registered charity, donations above $2 are tax deductible. Donate here

We hope you all have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year and, as always, thank you for your continued support.

Shayne Higson
CEO, Dying with Dignity NSW