Supporting the person accessing voluntary assisted dying

If your family member or friend is deciding whether to access voluntary assisted dying, there are many ways you can offer support.

Ways to offer support

It can be difficult to know how to support someone who is considering voluntary assisted dying. You can start by asking the person how you can help. Some things you can offer to do include:

Providing emotional support:

  • comforting them
  • attending to their spiritual care
  • doing activities they find enjoyable, like having conversations, speaking about favourite memories, going on outings.

Providing a helping hand:

  • driving them to appointments
  • giving them personal care
  • helping with practical jobs like cooking, cleaning or gardening.

Supporting their decision:

  • helping them understand and consider their end-of-life options
  • being part of their conversations about voluntary assisted dying
  • asking for more information about voluntary assisted dying.

Being involved in the process, if you're eligible:

  • taking on the role of a witness to the second request
  • taking on the role of the contact person
  • taking on the role of the witness to practitioner administration
  • helping them plan for a voluntary assisted dying death
  • being with them if they decide to take the voluntary assisted dying substance.

Just being present may be one of the most important things you can do for someone who is approaching the end of their life.

As a family member, friend, or carer, you cannot request voluntary assisted dying on the person’s behalf. Only the person wanting to access it can make the request. You can however ask the person’s doctor for information about voluntary assisted dying.

Administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance

If the person is eligible for voluntary assisted dying and has made an administration decision, their coordinating doctor may involve you in discussions about a plan for supporting the person to administer the voluntary assisted dying substance.

Administration of a voluntary assisted dying substance will result in the person’s death, so this is a significant consideration. The person may ask for you to be there with them when the substance is administered. It is important to consider how being present, or not being present, when the substance is being administered may affect you.

You can support the person with the administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance by helping them plan:

  • who they would like to be present when the substance is administered
  • where would they like administration to take place:
    • in their own home
    • in another home environment
    • on country
    • in hospital
    • in a palliative care unit or hospice
    • in a residential aged are facility
  • if there are any religious, spiritual or cultural considerations they want incorporated
  • whether there’s an outfit they would like to be wearing
  • if there are any smells or sounds they would like incorporated, for example a particular song playing, a perfume sprayed
  • preparing for what happens immediately after the person dies
  • broader aspects of planning for death, including funeral arrangements and having a will in place.

For the protections from liability to apply, all steps in the voluntary assisted dying process must occur in Queensland. This includes administration of a voluntary assisted dying substance.

You cannot administer the substance. For a self-administration decision, the person must administer the substance themselves. For a practitioner administration decision, the administering doctor or nurse will administer the substance.

If the person is ineligible

There are strict eligibility criteria for voluntary assisted dying, and some people wanting to access it will not meet the requirements. Read more about what happens when someone is assessed as ineligible.

If the person is assessed as ineligible, it is important that you get the support you need as well. You may find this news difficult, confronting or unfair, whilst also feeling you need to be strong for the person who is ineligible. Speak to your doctor or another healthcare worker (for example, a psychologist), who can advise on support or care options for you. You may not be able to do this on your own. It is okay to ask for help.

Looking after yourself

When supporting your family member, friend, or person you care for through the voluntary assisted dying process, it’s important that you also take time to look after your mental health and wellbeing. Your mental wellbeing is the unique way that you handle your emotions, respond to stress and your general outlook on life.

Learn more on the importance of self-care.

Legal protections

Under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 (the Act), if a person dies by self-administration or practitioner administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance, they are not considered to have died by suicide. There are protections in the Act for people who assist a person accessing voluntary assisted dying. This means you will not be breaking any laws in Queensland by supporting someone through the voluntary assisted dying process in accordance with the Act.

VAD stories - Ann and Vera's story

I'm Ann Bonner and I'm the daughter of my mum, Vera Hunt. Mum accessed the voluntary assisted dying pathway in Victoria and she wanted me to tell her story and our story.

She was very independent and forthright. She liked to do everything herself and take charge and be in control of things. And, you know, she lived a full and normal, happy life with two daughters and three grandchildren and a couple of great grandchildren.

So, she had treatment, lots and lots of treatment–chemotherapy, immunotherapy and some radiation therapy. And then come in July of 2020, the lymphoma was getting worse and it was clear that the bowel cancer had spread to her liver. And so, it was that point she decided that she didn't want any more treatment. So, she'd had about ten years of continual treatment for chemotherapy and immunotherapy. And so, that's when she decided to have some palliative care.

They were marvellous, the palliative care team and voluntary assisted dying does not take away the need for palliative care and I see that as really important. Well, I guess Mum and I'd always had these long conversations over, you know, many years and I'd known for more than ten years that Mum had just had an interest in dying with dignity.

And I guess the reason really is, that she wanted to be in control. She wanted to know that she had the choice. It wasn't a decision to take the medication or the substance at any particular point in time. It was going to be a decision when she felt ready and when she felt all of the family were ready.

So, while Mum was having to be an inpatient for palliative care reasons, she accessed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Coordinator and it was the coordinator, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Coordinator, that helped mum navigate the pathway and complete all of the paperwork and get all the documentation together.

There's a lot of checks and balances, there's a lot of thought been put in to make it safe.

So, the original plan was when Mum was discharged from palliative care, she was living at my sister's. If she decided to take the substance, she was going to go back to her home and she wanted to die in her home. So, the family were in the room and also on Zoom and that's what Mum wanted. And it was calm, it was peaceful, it was dignified. And for Mum, it was quick process. So, she did actually die within a matter of minutes after taking the substance.

It's an individual decision that a person makes and I think as a family member or a friend, is to listen. Listen to that loved one. They're going through that situation. They're the one that knows what they want for their life and every life does come to an end. And, I think that's the best thing that we can do, is to love that person, is to listen and then support them.

We might not personally agree, but that's not our decision. It's their decision that they want to learn more or go down the entire voluntary assisted pathway. I think the first step is that learning more and getting an understanding of what it actually is and what it isn't and just being there for your loved one.

I know it's hard, but it really is, truly, the most, one of the most important things that you can show your love, is to fully support somebody in just understanding what voluntary assisted dying is. And then, if they make all of the requirements and it's all approved, is then just to support them and know that it's their choice and it's their life and I think that's the best thing anybody can do.