Responding to a person's decision to access voluntary assisted dying

We all have different relationships with death, shaped by our personal experiences, religious or spiritual beliefs, culture, family history and life circumstances. Talking about death with family, friends, or people you care for can be challenging. Many people don’t like to talk about death. In some cultures, it is inappropriate to discuss it.

If you know someone who is considering or has decided to access voluntary assisted dying, you may find that decision confronting or hard to understand. You might not agree with their decision. You might not be surprised by the person’s decision and understand why they would make that choice.

It is important to remember that someone’s decision to access voluntary assisted dying is their decision. It might be helpful to talk to the person about why they have made this choice.

You could ask them

  • 'What are your values and preferences?'
  • ‘How do you want to live your final days?’
  • ‘What matters most to you?’
  • ‘Why are you making this decision?’
  • ‘What does quality of life mean to you?’
  • ‘What benefits and risks matter most to you?’
  • ‘What role do you want me to play?’

You might find comfort knowing the person has a choice regarding the time, place and who they would like to surround themselves with when they die. Voluntary assisted dying can allow more time for you to prepare for and accept the person’s death than you would otherwise. Knowing you will have the opportunity to say goodbye may help you through your grieving process. Knowing these things may help you understand and accept their decision.

Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, you may still be able to give them support.

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.