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.
OBJECTIVES: On 19 June 2019, assisted dying became lawful in Victoria, the second most populous state in Australia. Section 8 of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act is a legislative safeguard that is designed to ensure a patient's request for assistance to die is voluntary. This section prohibits health practitioners from initiating a conversation about assisted dying with the patient. This article explores the potential implications of this prohibition for effective communication between doctors and their patients, and the ability of doctors to provide high quality end-of-life (EOL) care in some cases.
METHOD: The authors reviewed and analysed literature on the importance of communication at the EOL including the need to understand and appropriately respond to Desire to Die or Desire to Hasten Death statements. A legal critique of section 8 of the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act was also undertaken to determine the scope of this new duty and how it aligns with existing legal obligations that would otherwise require doctors to provide information about EOL options requested by a patient.
RESULTS: Contemporary literature suggests that open and honest communication between doctor and patient including the provision of information about all EOL options when sought by the patient represents good clinical practice and will lead to optimal EOL care. The provision of such information also reflects professional, ethical and legal norms.
CONCLUSION: Despite (arguably) promoting an appropriate policy objective, the legislative prohibition on health professionals initiating conversations about voluntary assisted dying may, in cases where patients seek information about all EOL options, lead to less optimal patient outcomes.