First Anniversary for VAD in SA

First anniversary for VAD in SA

In some ways it feels like a long year; in other ways, it is hard to believe that voluntary assisted dying has now been an option for over a year for people with a terminal illness in South Australia.

In an interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast on Thursday, February 1, Deb Millikan said of her husband Arnold Gillespie’s death, “If you can have a beautiful death, he had a beautiful death”.

“There was an overwhelming feeling of relief once he was approved for VAD; the calmness that came over him, knowing that the end was in sight,” commented Deb.

Arnold Gillespie had campaigned for voluntary assisted dying in South Australia for 20 years. Assoc Prof Gillespie had been Head of Gynaecology at the Royal Adelaide Hospital for many years and had seen many women suffer intolerably at the end of their life. Arnold Gillespie was one of the 110 people who used voluntary assisted dying to end their suffering in the first year of operation.

The Premier’s office released a statement noting the anniversary of the first year of operation of VAD, with quotes from Health and Wellbeing Minister Picton, Attorney General Kyam Maher, who tabled the Bill, and VAD Review Board Presiding Member Ass Prof Mel Turner.

In its first year of operation in SA, between 31 January 2023 and 30 January 2024, 195 people were issued with a VAD permit by the Department for Health and Wellbeing. Of those, 140 people died including 110 from administration of the VAD substance.

Of those who have applied for VAD in SA since its introduction:

  • 75% were aged 65 years and over
  • 53% were male and 47% were female
  • 77% were receiving palliative care
  • 68% were from metropolitan Adelaide and 32% were from regional SA.

The difference between the 195 VAD permits being issued, 140 people dying during the year, and 110 people using the VAD substance is consistent with data from other states in Australia and around the world. More than 430 million people now have access to assisted dying laws in Australia, New Zealand, Europe (Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain), Canada, Colombia and 11 USA states or districts.

The thirty people who died after being assessed as eligible but did not use the VAD substance would have known that the choice was available.

As Deb Millikan explained on ABC Radio Adelaide, “when the second doctor said yes, the anguish that he had been suffering just lifted from his face, he had the most beautiful smile I have seen in a long time.”