Hospitals object to voluntary assisted dying

A new report into voluntary assisted dying in WA found some hospitals weren’t offering the service.
A new report into voluntary assisted dying in WA found some hospitals weren’t offering the service.

Some hospitals in Western Australia have refused to transfer patients who have requested voluntary assisted dying, a new report has revealed.

The annual VAD WA Board report found the obstruction had also caused distress to grieving families going through the process.

Board chairman Scott Blackwell wrote in the report that it was “disappointing” some people had been obstructed from accessing assisted dying.

“ It is disappointing that in 2022–23, the board has been made aware of instances where individuals or organisations have obstructed Western Australians who have sought access to voluntary assisted dying,” Dr Blackwell said.

Close-up of holding hands
Board chairman Scott Blackwell said it was disappointing some people had been obstructed from accessing assisted dying.

“The board recommends that the Act is amended at the earliest opportunity to ensure patients and residents of health service facilities are not prevented from accessing voluntary assisted dying as a lawful end of life choice.”

Dr Blackwell told The West Australian newspaper he was referring in the report to individual doctors and hospitals who had prevented the service but would not provide names.

One family member, who was not named for privacy reasons, told the board their mother had been told by one private facility she could not engage in any voluntary assisted dying discussions on the premises.

“Considering her extreme lack of mobility in those final days, which would have made any trip outside very difficult, I was thankful she was able to stay at home til the last moment,” they said.

“I think this should be made clear in advance for patients in the future so they can prepare alternative courses of action.”

Dr Blackwell wrote in the report that the board also raised concerns about the lack of funding available to practitioners to provide greater care.

“Health practitioner availability is vital to the successful provision of voluntary assisted dying services to Western Australians, and it is of ongoing concern to the board that there is still no secure funding for their services,” he said.

“Practitioners deserve to be adequately remunerated for the extensive time they spend assessing and supporting patients through the voluntary assisted dying process and for the mandatory administrative and reporting activities involved.

“To date, most participating practitioners have absorbed the costs of providing these services where Medicare Benefit Schedule item numbers available to remunerate practitioners are insufficient to reasonably account for the time and effort involved.”

Nurse assisting senior with walking cane
Care providers have been able to offer voluntary assisted dying since 2019. Picture: Supplied

The board had found voluntary assisted dying was being provided as a private fee for service model during 2022-23.

Dr Blackwell said the government should work to address this to provide greater financial support.

“Practitioner remuneration and ongoing support for voluntary assisted dying within the WA Health system should be addressed as a matter of priority,” he said.

There were 255 voluntary assisted dying deaths recorded in WA in 2022-23, representing an increase of 33.5 per cent from when the laws were introduced in 2019.

The report found there had been 1120 people who had requested the procedure, including 11 people between the ages of 18 and 39.

However, 446 people in WA had died by VAD since the laws were introduced.

The Perth metropolitan area recorded the highest amount of people accessing assisted dying procedures (71.1 per cent), while 28.9 per cent of regional areas also provided the care.

In November, eligible NSW residents were also given access to voluntary assisted dying options.

The state joined South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and WA in providing the service.

A spokesperson for St John of God Health Care, which runs all of Perth’s Catholic hospitals, said it “understands that patients or clients may wish to explore the option of voluntary assisted dying from another provider.”

“Patients who request specific information about the VAD process are connected with the WA Voluntary Assisted Dying Statewide Care Navigator Service,” they said.

“We also support the transfer of care for patients who wish to access VAD services available elsewhere.”