Voluntary Assisted Dying

View the RACP’s work on good end of life care

Statement on Voluntary Assisted Dying

In recent years, a number of proposals to legalise voluntary assisted dying have been considered by Parliaments in Australia and New Zealand. The RACP established a Working Party to develop a statement on voluntary assisted dying informed by thorough consultation with the membership. Over 2017 and 2018, the Working Party:

  • circulated a discussion paper to members
  • engaged with members, College bodies and Specialty Societies, including via:
    • attendance at College body and Specialty Society meetings
    • two Congress sessions
    • an online forum
    • three face-to-face forums in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney
  • developed submissions to inquiries and on legislative proposals in VIC, NSW, ACT, WA and NZ
  • consulted across the RACP on its draft statement, including an email sent to all RACP members

View the consultation report

The RACP respects and supports all its members and does not believe it is appropriate or possible to enforce a single view on a matter where individual conscience is important. The RACP recognises that legalisation of voluntary assisted dying is for governments to decide, having regard to the will of the community, to research, and to the views of medical and health practitioners. 

Legislative change related to voluntary assisted dying will affect individual members in different ways.  Different clinical settings require ethical and clinical considerations to be made carefully, deliberately and systematically. Our members are not unanimous in their support of or opposition to legislative change. 

The RACP takes the following unified positions if and where voluntary assisted dying is legalised:

  • Every patient should have access to timely, equitable, good quality end-of-life care, with access to specialist palliative care where appropriate. These services must not be devalued.
  • On the specific issue of a competent adult in the last stages of incurable illness requesting voluntary assistance to die, the RACP supports a clinical approach of critical neutrality to encourage reflective dialogue. 
  • Although physicians should not be forced to act outside their values and beliefs, they also should not disengage from patients holding different values and beliefs, without ensuring that arrangements for ongoing care are in place.
  • Patients seeking voluntary assisted dying should be made aware of the benefits of palliative care. Referral to specialist palliative care should be strongly recommended but cannot be made mandatory.  Voluntary assisted dying must not be seen as part of palliative care. 

This statement should not be taken as support for legislative change. The RACP will continue to highlight concerns about legislative proposals, drawing on both clinical experience and the ethical perspectives of our members.

The RACP will continue to advocate for patient and physician well-being, in order to support our members and contribute our expertise as medical specialists who care for dying patients.

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