Legislative Council: Tuesday, February 20, 2024


Voluntary Assisted Dying

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (14:58): Will the minister inform the council about the recent milestone anniversary—

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Wortley, which minister?

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY: —the Attorney-General—for voluntary assisted dying in South Australia?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:58): I thank the honourable member for his question. I am pleased to inform the member that the voluntary assisted dying scheme in South Australia recently marked one year since its introduction. That was on 31 January. It was one year since the introduction of voluntary assisted dying in this state.

It has been pleasing to hear many stories over the past year of how this reform has provided relief and what many have described as a beautiful death. For those who have suffered through an incurable, advanced, progressive illness, such as cancer, to describe something as a beautiful death in those circumstances is quite a remarkable thing.

In its first year of operation, 195 people were issued with a voluntary assisted dying permit; of those, 140 have passed away, with 110 of those being from administration of the VAD substance. This is roughly in line with international and interstate experience, where not all of those who are granted a permit pass away from using the substance, but have the substance, which many report has a palliative effect just knowing it is there, should they need or wish to take it.

One hundred and twenty-one doctors have registered to undertake the relevant training to approve voluntary assisted dying permits, with 73 having completed the training. The service has been accessible across the state, and it is pleasing to see that 27 per cent of practitioners are located across regional South Australia and 32 per cent of those who have applied for the training are from the regions.

Throughout the process of the voluntary assisted dying being formulated in South Australia, and for many years of advocacy, Dr Arnold Gillespie played a pivotal role in its formulation. Since the time Dr Gillespie worked tirelessly to see voluntary assisted dying legislation pass in this place, providing many members of parliament with the benefit of his professional medical wisdom, he became unwell through an illness from which he was unable to recover. Dr Gillespie endured ongoing pain and, after some time, he himself ended up making an application for voluntary assisted dying.

I have had the benefit of spending time talking to his wonderful wife Deb, who has described the peace of mind it brought Dr Gillespie being granted a VAD permit and how he passed away peacefully at home. In Deb's words, 'If you can have a beautiful death, he certainly had one of those.' Dr Arnold Gillespie's story epitomises why dying with dignity, through schemes such as voluntary assisted dying, is such an important part of what we now have, not just in South Australia but in every single state around the country.

I thank all those who have been involved: the administrators in the health department, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, the practitioners who have registered or are undergoing training, and those who have supported these reforms.