Aug 24, 2023

Anglican Church fears Voluntary Assisted Dying threatens aged care presence

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Voluntary Assisted Dying laws come into effect in New South Wales this November, meaning all States will have VAD laws in place. [Source: Shutterstock]

The Anglican Church has raised fears it may exit the aged care industry if Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws lead to moral and legal battles with residents within its aged care homes. 

Operating under its Anglican Community Services branch, the church has advised its New South Wales facilities to discourage residents from accessing VAD through a “strategy of minimum compliance”.

Key points

  • VAD is currently legal across all States, except for New South Wales, where the law will commence operation on November 28. Commonwealth laws prevent the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory from legislating VAD
  • Several criteria are in place to determine who’s eligible for VAD, ensuring people can only access it under the strictest conditions
  • There are restrictions on when VAD can be discussed with aged care residents, meaning only select healthcare professionals are allowed to initiate discussions. Aged care workers are able to provide resources only if a resident asks first
  • Staff and providers can decline participation in VAD, however, they do have to refer the resident to someone else who will assist in the process

With no legal grounding to explicitly deny residents access to information regarding VAD, the Anglican Church will only refer residents to relevant healthcare professionals, according to The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). All staff have otherwise been told to refuse participation in facilitating VAD.

“The report challenges Anglicare Sydney to respectfully, in compliance with the law, seek to dissuade residents from accessing VAD by ‘deed and word’. The Board of Anglicare Sydney decided… VAD will not be available at its residential aged care homes, and the organisation and staff will not actively participate in the provision of any VAD services,” the statement read.

Under current rules, which do differ slightly in each State, individuals accessing VAD must have full cognitive capacity, be assessed by at least two independent doctors, and have a progressive or incurable disease that’s expected to cause death within six to 12 months, depending on individual circumstances. 

At least three requests for VAD must also be made, while a disability, mental illness or dementia are not accepted reasons to access VAD. However, there are calls for that to change by some dementia advocates who believe the rules should be adjusted in the future to support people with advanced dementia. 

Despite the number of regulations in place, the Anglican Church cast doubts over the legal safeguards in its statement provided to the Synod (council). Instead, it offered arguments against euthanasia and called for staff to respect autonomy but to also question “expressed desires”. It also said interest in VAD would not impact ongoing resident care. 

Anglicare Sydney Chief Executive, Simon Miller, told SMH he was not aware of any VAD requests in their aged care homes, but they will continue to ensure “every person is given the space to deeply reflect and come to a well-considered decision based upon a range of reasons across alternative courses of action”.

The viewpoint of minimal compliance is shared by many religious organisations within the aged care sector, creating some concerns over resident choice. 

Elsewhere, Catholic Health Australia stated it would not facilitate VAD at any of its NSW facilities, and would instead “respond in a respectful and compassionate manner” to help residents who want to learn more about VAD. 

Uniting Church has taken a more open approach, as it told SMH it would not prevent residents from using VAD. 

“Anyone who has watched a loved one die in agony and often confusion will attest that it challenged and sometimes changed their outlook,” said NSW and ACT moderator Reverend Simon Hansford.

When VAD is legalised on November 28 in NSW, anyone who makes a request will see their application judged by a Voluntary Assisted Dying Board.

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  1. Good morning,
    This Key point is not correct
    …Commonwealth laws prevent the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory from legislating VAD…
    Since 1 December 22 the Senate has passed the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 that removes the restrictions on the ability of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly and of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly to pass laws with respect to VAD.

    Kind regards

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