Overview voluntary assisted dying in South Australia

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 was passed by the South Australian Parliament on 24 June 2021. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 sets out a framework for eligible people who are suffering from a terminal illness to choose the manner and timing of their death.

SA Health is currently in the process of planning the safe implementation of the legislation. For more information on how SA Health intends to implement the Voluntary Assisted Dying Scheme visit the Implementation page.

What is voluntary assisted dying?

Voluntary assisted dying is a process that enables an eligible individual to voluntarily access and self-administer, or in some circumstances have a health practitioner administer, a substance that will cause their death, in accordance with the steps and process set out in the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021.

Voluntary assisted dying allows a person who is in the late stages of an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition and is suffering in a way that cannot be relieved in a manner they deem acceptable to access a substance that will allow them to choose the time and manner of their death.

Voluntary assisted dying must be voluntary and initiated by the person themselves and is usually self-administered. 

Why is there a law?

All South Australians are entitled to high-quality end of life and palliative care, regardless of their medical diagnosis, age, culture, background, beliefs or where they live. Voluntary assisted dying, when available as a legal end of life option, gives South Australians with a terminal illness choice at the end of life.

The law ensures the person’s decision is voluntary and enduring and provides clear guidance for how medical practitioners can lawfully support the person in this choice.

Who can access voluntary assisted dying?

The law includes strict eligibility criteria for accessing voluntary assisted dying. This reflects the underlying principle that voluntary assisted dying is only an option for people who are suffering from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition, who are experiencing intolerable suffering.

Eligibility criteria is outlined below with further detail provided on the eligibility criteria webpage.

  1. You are 18 years old or over.
  2. You are an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
  3. You live in South Australia and have lived in South Australia for at least 12 months at the time of making a first request.
  4. You have decision making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying.
  5. You have been diagnosed with a disease, illness or medical condition that meets all the below
    conditions:
  • it’s incurable
  • it’s advanced and progressive
  • it will cause death within 6 months, or 12 months if you have a neurodegenerative disease
  • it’s causing suffering to you that cannot be relieved in a manner that you consider tolerable.
  1. You are acting freely and without coercion.

How will voluntary assisted dying work?

The process to ask for voluntary assisted dying and access the substance is set out in law and includes many safeguards to ensure only eligible people access the scheme and to protect vulnerable people from coercion, abuse and exploitation.

Only the person wanting to access voluntary assisted dying may initiate discussions with health practitioners about voluntary assisted dying. A request cannot be made on somebody else's behalf by a family member, friend or carer. At no time is a medical practitioner allowed to initiate a conversation or discussion regarding voluntary assisted dying with a patient. This is to ensure that the request is completely voluntary and without coercion, and that the decision is the person’s own.

If a person wants to request access to voluntary assisted dying, they will need to be assessed by a suitably qualified doctor who will determine if the person is eligible. If the person is eligible, the process is repeated with a second doctor who will need to conduct another assessment. The doctors will make sure the person is making a fully informed decision and is aware of the palliative care options also available to them.

If the person wishes to proceed, they will need to make a written declaration that is witnessed by two independent individuals, confirming that they are making an informed, voluntary, and enduring decision to access voluntary assisted dying.

On receiving a final request, the doctor will apply for a self administration permit to prescribe a substance that the person may use to end their life at a time of their choosing. The person must administer the substance themselves, unless they are physically unable to do so, in which case their doctor may apply for a practitioner administration permit.

A health practitioner who has a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying has the right to refuse to participate in voluntary assisted dying.

Safeguards

There are many steps and safeguards set out to ensure that a person is eligible and is making the choice to access voluntary assisted dying freely and without coercion.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 provides for one of the safest voluntary assisted dying schemes in the world, through 70 safeguards, including:

  • clear eligibility criteria including age, decision-making capacity, diagnosed condition and residency requirements
  • three requests must be made voluntarily, by the person themselves, with one being a written declaration that is appropriately witnessed
  • eligibility must be assessed by two separate and independent medical practitioners who have undertaken prescribed training
  • the voluntary assisted dying substance must be handled safely and an appointed contact person to return any unused portion for disposal
  • health practitioners may conscientiously object to participating.

Implementation will be informed by the experience of other Australian states and governed by an Implementation Taskforce and Working Groups, with support from an Implementation Team in the Department for Health and Wellbeing.

To learn more about how voluntary assisted dying will be implemented in South Australia visit the Implementation page.

Barriers to accessing voluntary assisted dying

Throughout the implementation process work will be done to ensure people who may experience barriers to accessing voluntary assisted dying have fair and equitable access to the scheme.

This includes people with a disability, people who are culturally and linguistically diverse and people living in regional, rural and remote South Australia.

Support services

Some people may find issues relating to end of life care concerning or distressing. If reading the material on this site or thinking about end of life care has raised some issues regarding grief and bereavement or personal crisis, the helpline below provides telephone support and counselling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.