“With dementia, you’ve already lost them”: Voluntary Assisted Dying laws reviewed

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Accessing Voluntary Assisted Dying can be difficult for people with dementia as their decision-making capacity is often questioned. [Source: Shutterstock]

Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation is coming up for review and dementia advocates are calling for the scheme to be expanded to include them.

VAD laws came into effect in more parts of the country at the start of this year but people with dementia often face difficulty accessing the end-of-life care option due to the unpredictable and impactful nature of the condition.

When dementia and disability advocate, Kevyn Morris, 62, was diagnosed with dementia almost seven years ago, he and his family knew how important it was to act quickly. 

The keen photographer and his wife, Leanne, sat down with his lawyer and wrote an end-of-life plan which included his wishes to access VAD so that he could speak for himself while he can. But he admits navigating the system as someone with a dementia diagnosis comes with challenges.

“The problem is convincing the judge and if he says ‘no’, it doesn’t matter what your wishes are, they’re not carried out,” he explained.

Kevyn Morris
Kevyn Morris is an advocate for many dementia, disability and older people organisations that value his voice. [Source: Supplied]

But with or without a dementia diagnosis, the assessment for VAD is granted to people with decision-making capacity – something people with dementia can still have.

Kevyn said that, “There are so many forms of dementia and some people get it really fast, some people really slow. So long as you can articulate yourself or you can prove to a judge that you still have enough faculties, you can possibly still access it.”

In the early stages of dementia, people often face the challenge of meeting the eligibility criteria as their death is not imminent. But as the condition progresses, the ability to consent and decision-making capacity is taken away.

But without access to VAD, people with dementia might consider suicide or other harmful avenues to access end-of-life care.

Having the tough conversation

People like Kevyn say that while it is a tough conversation, talking to family and loved ones about your end-of-life care and wishes is important to maintain quality of life and have your voices heard when you can no longer speak. 

Predicted to soon be the leading cause of death in Australia, it is likely everyone will know someone with dementia. This is why advocates want to see more open conversation and discussion about VAD and end-of-life care despite uncomfortable feelings. 

“I never saw the point of anybody putting an animal through unnecessary pain and suffering but yet we do it to people we love every single day.”

“It’s a tough conversation but at least if you have it while you can, it’s better than wondering ‘what’s the best thing to do for a dad or mum?’.”

New South Wales is the next State to implement their VAD legislation, coming into effect November 28.

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