SHORT REPORT - EXTRACT OF PAGES 1 TO 4 FROM THE
REPORT ON ATTITUDES TOWARDS VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING
AMONGST REGISTERED MEMBERS OF ACT BRANCHES
OF NATIONAL SENIORS AUSTRALIA



The content that follows is an extract of the first section of the full report on a survey about attitudes towards voluntary assisted dying (VAD) was conducted amongst members of National Seniors Australia who are living in the ACT and registered in ACT Branches. The extract covers this content that is in the full report:

  • Purpose of the report
  • Background
  • Major conclusions
The full report can be downloaded from here: Download Full Survey Report In that full report are details comprising:
  • Background events that determined the design of the survey
  • Methodology
  • Limits to interpreting the results
  • Detailed analysis of the responses to the questions asked
  • Tabulations for each question
  • Proposed questionnaire to be used on a broader sample of respondents
  • Copy of the online survey questionnaire


1. PURPOSE OF THIS REPORT

During October and November 2019 an online survey on attitudes towards voluntary assisted dying was conducted amongst members of National Seniors Australia who are living in the ACT and registered in ACT Branches.

The purpose of this document is to:
  • report on the findings of that survey
  • in the light of the views expressed by respondents, to identify implications regarding the provisions for Voluntary Assisted Dying if it were to implemented in the ACT some time in the future
  • to propose the undertaking of broader scale surveys in the ACT and nationally
  • to propose an amended questionnaire that could be used in such surveys

2. BACKGROUND

The ACT Policy Advisory Group of National Seniors Australia provides advice to the ACT Government on a range of policies and issues that are of concern to National Seniors in the ACT. One matter that is of considerable and increasing interest to our members is that of end of life choices. Of particular interest is the possibility of provisions for Voluntary Assisted Dying ("VAD") being implemented in the ACT. That interest is increasing because legislation for provision of VAD has been implemented in two States and is being given consideration in other States.

In the ACT the Policy Advisory Group ("PAG") collects and evaluates information of relevance to its policy development work. Recently it became aware that in 2018 Mr M Boesen and a group of like minded senior citizens had proposed to the Select Committee on End of Life Choices in the ACT by that a survey be undertaken to determine views on voluntary euthanasia. Subsequently, in 2019 the group provided to the Government a draft of a questionnaire that might be used in such a survey. It was decided that the authors of the survey proposal should be assisted through an online trial of it amongst National Seniors in the ACT. The PAG felt that such a trial would have these benefits:
  • it would generate data that would be useful to the PAG in developing policy concerning end of life issues
  • it would give the authors an opportunity to test the survey questionnaire, and if appropriate, to refine it for possible use in a broader scale survey in the ACT or elsewhere
  • it would enable National Seniors Australia to evaluate the appropriateness of undertaking such a survey nationally
There are 250 registered members of ACT branches of National Seniors Australia. All were invited to participate in the survey. Returns were received from 93 of those 250 members during late November and mid-December of 2019. This substantial number of returns and the quality of responses ensures that the results can be regarded as being reliably indicative of the views of members of National Seniors in the ACT. The survey generated information that should be of great value in developing policy of importance to members of National Seniors Australia.

In considering the responses readers should keep in mind the characteristics of the respondents in terms of age and gender. Virtually all were aged between 60 to 89 (27% aged 60 to 69; 42% aged 70 to 79; 27 % aged 80 to 89). Females accounted for 72% of respondents and males 25%.

3. MAJOR CONCLUSIONS

In Appendix 1 of this document presents a detailed analysis of the data obtained for each question and an evaluation of its significance. The most important of the conclusions expressed in that appendix are presented here:

3.1 A very large majority of 86% of respondents agreed that access to VAD should be allowed for adults who have both a terminal illness and only a short time to live, providing that they meet eight other specific prerequisites (see analysis for Q10).

3.2 However, the responses to a number of questions indicate that there is only minority support for a short life expectancy being a
mandatory precondition for access to VAD. (see analysis for Q6, Q7, Q11 and Q12).

3.3 A large majority of about 75% of the respondents gave responses on a number of questions indicating that having a terminal illness should not be a
mandatory precondition for access to VAD (see analysis for Q5).

3.4 A large majority of 76% of the respondents agreed that irrespective of the time they have left to live and irrespective of whether or not they have a terminal illness, access to VAD should be allowed for adults if they have a "serious condition" causing suffering that cannot be relieved to an extent and in a manner that is acceptable to them and they meet nine other specific criteria (see analysis for Q11).

3.5 There was also majority support for allowing access to VAD for people aged over 60, irrespective of whether or not they have a terminal illness or a other serious condition, if they regard their life as being intolerable, and providing that they meet eight other specific criteria. (see analysis for Q12).

3.6 The support for giving access to VAD for such elderly people was strongest in relation to adults of the most advanced age:
  • a clear majority of 71% agreed that VAD should be allowed for such persons if they are aged over 90
  • a sizeable majority of 61% agreed that VAD should be allowed for such persons if they are aged 81 to 90
  • but only a slim majority of 52% agreed that VAD should be allowed for such persons if they are aged 61 to 80.
3.7 Taken as a whole, we conclude that amongst our respondents, there would be strong support for a model of provision of VAD that meets the needs of people in each of these three categories:
  • adults who are in extremis - those having a terminal illness and only a short time left to live; and
  • adults who do not have a terminal illness or a short time to live, but do have an intolerable serious condition; and
  • adults of an advanced age who do not have a terminal illness or a serious condition, but whose quality of life is intolerable, especially if they are aged over 90 and possibly where they are aged 81 to 90
3.8 In both the Victorian and Western Australian systems for VAD, access is restricted to only those people in the first of those three categories - that is, adults who have both a terminal illness and a short time to live. Thus, while the Victorian and Western Australian models of access to VAD may meet the needs of adults in extremis, they would certainly not meet the needs of adults in the other two categories listed above.

3.9 Consequently, our view is that there is a clear need for consideration to be given to less restrictive models that would meet the needs of a broader spectrum of people. We note that there are such models for VAD that have been proven to be effective through years of implementation in overseas jurisdictions. Examples are those in The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

3.10 The strength of demand for access to provisions for VAD was also reflected in the very strong agreement - by 88% of our respondents - to this question:
  • Would it be comforting for you to know that when you will be approaching the end of your life and in declining health or experiencing intolerable pain and an unacceptable quality of life, then there would be a legal, peaceful and assured means available to end your life, at a time and location of your choice and in the company of caring people?
3.11 To assess the strength and nature of the demand for access to provisions for VAD amongst the general population we recommend that a survey be conducted on a representative sample of adults of all ages in the ACT and - ideally - nationally.

3.12 The survey questionnaire used in this study appeared to be an effective instrument. However some improvements have now been incorporated in a revised questionnaire (see Appendix 3) which is proposed for use in any future surveys:
  • wording of some questions improved to eliminate ambiguity and problems of interpretation
  • deletion of two questions - old Q4 and Q8
  • inclusion of supplementary questions after the old Q13
  • inclusion of questions to gather additional demographic data


Report prepared by:

Dr Bill Donovan (Chair of the ACT Policy Advisory Group, National Seniors Australia)
Mr Mike Boesen (Survey design and analysis consultant)

18 December 2019

You can download the Full Report on the survey from here:
Download Full Survey Report