Euthanasia: Over 130 patients died voluntary in first three months in Australia

Over 130 patients have died through New South Wales’s voluntary assisted dying program within the first three months since it was legalized. NSW became the final state in Australia to legalize voluntary assisted dying when the new legislation came into effect in November.

Between November 2023 and February 2024, 517 patients requested access to voluntary assisted dying, and of those, 131 completed the process. An interim report from the NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Board indicated that during this three-month period, 408 patients completed their initial assessment. Of these, 321 proceeded to the next step, a consulting assessment, and 248 submitted a substance authorization application.

Among those who followed through with the process, 30% self-administered the voluntary assisted dying substance. The report also noted that the majority of those who completed the first assessment were over the age of 60. Additionally, 2.5% of the applicants were from Indigenous communities, while 65% resided in regional NSW.

Prof. Jenni Millbank, chair of the NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Board, mentioned in the report that many patients who receive substance authorization from the board ultimately do not use it. She wrote, “We know from the experience in other states as well as our first few months of operations that some people who receive a substance authority from the board may ultimately choose not to take the substance. Knowing the substance is available to them gives these people the power of choice and may provide a degree of relief and comfort in their final days and weeks.”

The report also revealed that out of the 246 patients who successfully applied for substance authorization, 115 did not use it, and 29 died from other causes during the reporting period. Millbank highlighted that the board meets twice weekly in person to assess applications and occasionally convenes more frequently in urgent cases. She wrote, “The board undertakes a high volume of work associated with its decision-making functions. We are also often required to make decisions at short notice or in urgent circumstances outside of our regular meeting schedule. This is to ensure that eligible people who are at end of life or at risk of losing decision-making capacity who have applied for voluntary assisted dying are supported to access it.”

The NSW government passed the voluntary assisted dying legislation in May 2022 following an extensive debate, six months after the bill cleared the lower house. The legislation, championed by independent MP Alex Greenwich, restricts access to voluntary assisted dying to individuals with terminal illnesses expected to result in death within six months, or within 12 months for those with a neurodegenerative condition experiencing unbearable suffering. The person must be deemed capable of making the decision voluntarily without coercion, with the application assessed by two medical practitioners. Patients have the option to take the medication orally themselves or have it administered by a doctor via injection.

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