Oral Presentation Australasian Association of Bioethics & Health Law and New Zealand Bioethics Conference

Cause of death under VADA17: unethical obfuscation or beneficent legal fiction? (932)

Malcolm H Parker 1
  1. University of Queensland, Herston, QLD, Australia

Under Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (VADA17), registered medical practitioners responsible for either a person's medical care immediately before death (usually the coordinating medical practitioner) or examining the body of the deceased person, and who believe or know the person was the subject of a voluntary assisted dying (VAD) permit, must notify the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Coroner that:

  • the person was the subject of a VAD permit;
  • the person either self-administered or had administered to them, or did not self-administer or have administered, the relevant VAD substance; and
  • the disease, illness or medical condition was the grounds for the person to access VAD.

The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages must record that VAD was the manner of death, but that the cause of death was the notified disease, illness or condition. The Coroner must treat such cases as non-reportable deaths. These attributions/descriptions require that the death is in accordance with the VADA17.

These requirements reflect the recognition that VAD is only available to people who are already dying, as strictly defined by VADA17, and hence that their death should not be regarded as unexpected or avoidable. Nevertheless, opponents of VAD argue that recording the cause of death as the relevant disease or condition obfuscates the real cause of death, in order to rationalise and facilitate unethical legislation like VADA17. The argument is deployed in continuing resistance to further enactments of VAD.

The paper critically appraises this argument.