Voluntary Assisted Dying: What do Retirement Village Operators need to know?

Dr Melanie Tan, Felicity Iredale

The media recently reported that the first person in Victoria has passed away using the voluntary assisted dying (VAD) scheme that came into effect on 19 June 2019. Other states are also looking at introducing similar laws, so the issue is likely to stay on the agenda for some time.

How does the scheme impact retirement village operators?

With strict eligibility requirements to access the scheme and only specially trained medical practitioners able to prescribe and administer the VAD substance, the direct impact of the scheme on retirement village operators is limited at this stage.

Retirement village operators may have residents in their villages who are considering using the scheme. For this reason, operators will need to consider how staff should respond to a request, and what they will do if residents do access the scheme.

As the VAD Act requires bodies corporate to exercise due diligence to prevent the commission of offences under the Act by the body corporate, including its officers, it is important that operators consider the scheme and develop appropriate policies and procedures to guide their staff.

What should operators consider?

In developing policies and procedures, some of the issues operators need to consider include:

  • How should your staff respond to requests from their residents for information about the scheme?
    Should they tell the resident to speak to their GP? Or should they take a more active role and provide the resident with resources and information? Or, should they refuse to discuss the subject at all on the basis of a conscientious objection by the organisation.
  • For operators who support VAD, how will the operator support staff with a conscientious objection?
    For example, will they ask staff to tell them if they have a conscientious objection? How are staff with a conscientious objection required to respond if a resident asks them about VAD? Should they tell the resident to speak to someone else? Should they report the request to another person?
  • Whether operators will ask residents to inform them if they are accessing the scheme?
    While “not knowing” has its advantages, there are risks that this could lead to a situation where the operator activates an emergency response, not knowing the resident has chosen to end their life.
  • The role of staff in the VAD process.
    With people accessing the scheme encouraged to do so with another person present, there could be situations in which village staff are asked to attend while the resident uses the substance or where they are asked to help the resident use the substance. While strict offences apply to physically administering the substance, it is lawful to assist a person by preparing the substance. It would also be lawful to pass the substance to the person.
  • Storing the substance.
    What requirements will the operator impose on residents with a self-administration permit in terms of storing the substance? The substance comes in a locked box.

These considerations will need to be made in light of the operator’s approach to the issue more broadly. Faith-based operators are likely to have a different approach to other operators. It is therefore very important that village staff understand the organisation’s position so they can respond in line with the operator’s position.

Understanding the VAD Act

It's also important that operators and their staff are aware of offences and prohibitions under the VAD Act. For example, there are offences that apply to any person “inducing” someone to make a request for VAD or take the drug. Operators may be vicariously liable for the conduct of their staff in doing this. For health practitioners, the rules are even stricter. For example, it is unprofessional conduct to “initiate a discussion about” VAD or “encourage” someone to make a request for VAD.

Taking these issues into account, although the impact of VAD on operators is likely to be limited, operators with villages in Victoria should consider the impact of the VAD laws on their operations. They should also consider how to educate and support their staff and residents in a manner consistent with the law, and the operator’s position.

For more information

Please contact Dr Melanie Tan on (03) 9609 1577 or Felicity Iredale on (03) 8602 7254 from our Aged Care and Retirement Living team should you require further information or advice.

If you would like to keep up to date with Alerts from our team, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

Aged Care Video Alert: Voluntary Assisted Dying Update - 25 June 2019



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