Objective: The aim of this study was to identify the challenges anticipated by clinical staff in two Melbourne health services in relation to the legalisation of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria, Australia.
Methods: A qualitative approach was used to investigate perceived challenges for clinicians. Data were collected after the law had passed but before the start date for voluntary assisted dying in Victoria. This work is part of a larger mixed-methods anonymous online survey about Victorian clinicians' views on voluntary assisted dying. Five open-ended questions were included in order to gather text data from a large number of clinicians in diverse roles. Participants included medical, nursing and allied health staff from two services, one a metropolitan tertiary referral health service (Service 1) and the other a major metropolitan health service (Service 2). The data were analysed thematically using qualitative description.
Results: In all, 1086 staff provided responses to one or more qualitative questions: 774 from Service 1 and 312 from Service 2. Clinicians anticipated a range of challenges, which included burdens for staff, such as emotional toll, workload and increased conflict with colleagues, patients and families. Challenges regarding organisational culture, the logistics of delivering voluntary assisted dying under the specific Victorian law and how voluntary assisted dying would fit within the hospital's overall work were also raised.
Conclusions: The legalisation of voluntary assisted dying is anticipated to create a range of challenges for all types of clinicians in the hospital setting. Clinicians identified challenges both at the individual and system levels.What is known about the topic? Voluntary assisted dying became legal in Victoria on 19 June 2019 under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. However there has been little Victorian data to inform implementation.What does this paper add? Victorian hospital clinicians anticipate challenges at the individual and system levels, and across all clinical disciplines. These challenges include increased conflict, emotional burden and workload. Clinicians report concerns about organisational culture, the logistics of delivering voluntary assisted dying under the specific Victorian law and effects on hospitals' overall work. What are the implications for practitioners? Careful attention to the breadth of staff affected, alongside appropriate resourcing, will be needed to support clinicians in the context of this legislative change.