Voluntary Assisted Dying Reflection Day

The SA Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board hosted the first Day of Reflection on April 14 held in the SPF Hall at the Repat Precinct.

The day was hosted by Presiding Member, Associate Professor Mel Turner (pictured), who described the beautiful artwork she had commissioned from a friend and indigenous artist in WA, Nerolie Bynder, to tell the voluntary assisted dying story. (see below) The artwork formed the backdrop to the day.

Attended by over 100 invited guests, speakers reflected on their experience of the first year of voluntary assisted dying in South Australia. Guests were first welcomed by Uncle Frank Wanganeen, followed by the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Hon Chris Picton, who expressed his thanks to the SA Health staff and doctors for the care and compassion with which VAD had been implemented in SA.

Other speakers included Frances Coombe, VADSA President, Deb Millikan, wife of Dr Arnold Gillespie who co-founded Doctors for Assisted Dying Choice, family members of people who have used VAD, and a Care Navigator.

Two clear messages which came through from different speakers were the concept of control and the paradigm shift in end-of-life care provided by VAD.

  • Speakers talked of the reaction of their loved one or patient when they received the second positive assessment: the relief, the joy, and the feeling of regaining control. This was reported as a major change at a time when everything seemed out of control with their illness, daily living, and the prospect of future suffering.
  • Dr Laureen Lawlor-Smith, a GP who provides VAD assessments, spoke of the paradigm shift in end-of-life care represented by voluntary assisted dying. Dr Lawlor-Smith has seen many deaths, some peaceful, some traumatic. She reported that she sees a VAD death as a paradigm shift because of the different relationship with the person, the discussions with the person, the family and friends, the medical and health team. The planning for the death, the environment, the death, the response of friends and family after the death, and the care, compassion, dignity and respect shown by all participants, in her view places voluntary assisted dying in a new and enhanced end-of-life category.

Glowing Spirit – Nerolie Bynder

Original Aboriginal artwork by artist Nerolie Bynder, a Badimia-Noongar-Yamatji woman based in Western Australia, commissioned by Associate Professor Melanie Turner, Presiding Member, Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, South Australia.

The art tells a story of a glowing spirit, the spirit is between two places, earth life and the life of a higher spirit being. The hills below are full of life, the glowing spirit is leaving these hills soon. The hands represent the love and care given from the earth place. The spirits on the hills show the people and the families that are on this journey too. Above them are the many families linked together by travel lines.

The spirits with the love hearts on them are the close people that work as a team, giving the best love, care and support to the glowing spirit, to make its journey as easy as can be. They are supporting and lifting the glowing spirit up to that higher place.

The wings carry the stories and connections of a lifetime. They represent all the connections made on earth. The butterflies represent transformation and flight to carry the spirit to its new pathway. The flowers represent both life and death and the beautiful connections of love and care made with our spirits on earth. As time gets closer for the glowing spirit to go, the higher spirits come down and help take them to that other place, to continue their journey.

The raindrops remind us of the tears and sorrow that fills our heart during this time. Everything is connected. The cycle of life, death and spiritual connection is represented in a compassionate and loving way.