This editorial in The Age newspaper on 13 June includes a call for the government to consider the issue of dementia, among others, when it conducts its upcoming review of Victoria’s VAD laws.
As the editorial says, this is a particularly challenging issue: “At the heart of voluntary assisted dying laws must always be the word ’voluntary’, and, as people lose their cognitive capacity, it’s difficult at the end to verify ongoing consent.”.
Another article from The Age on 21 May looks at this issue as well. It includes comments from a number of physicians, including our own DWDV Board Member Dr Peter Lange, who are in favour of dementia patients being able to access VAD. It also shares a moving story from a daughter who was “left traumatised” by her mother’s “slow and painful decline from dementia”. The article does include opposing views from other commentators.
However, although there are those who oppose the idea, there is a groundswell of voices across the community calling for dementia to be considered as an eligible condition for accessing VAD. Among them are physicians, dementia specialists, aged care providers, and carers (such as the daughter in the above article) or families who have watched their loved ones with dementia suffer horribly at the end of life.
Many responses to our DWDV survey on VAD joined this swelling chorus.
And as Michael Bachelard, a senior writer at The Age, said in this article from 8 May:
“When Dying With Dignity Victoria did a recent survey of its members’ views on the current law, the responses were filled up with pleas for dementia to be included.
This is the monster in the room. Dementia accounts for almost 10 per cent of all deaths in Australia and is the second leading cause of death after coronary heart disease. If you’re a woman who makes it to 75, it’s the thing you’re most likely to die of.
A review into its operations begins this year. Nobody pretends it will be easy to assess how to gain informed consent from dementia sufferers, or how then to enact their wishes. But the review should canvass the issue … In my view we must work to find a way to give relief to dementia sufferers from the fear and pain they ultimately will be unable to express.”
It is our hope the Victorian review will seriously consider a revision to the legislation that will provide a path to VAD for dementia sufferers, and we will continue to campaign on this issue!