We know that changing the law won’t necessarily change how people feel about voluntary assisted dying. For some, it will be an overdue and welcome development. For others, it represents a societal failure to adequately care for those at the end of life. In either case, there will be many who are deeply affected by the introduction of voluntary assisted dying, particularly because how this new end-of-life choice will coexist with current end-of-life and palliative care is uncertain.
Seeking to limit this uncertainty is an important part of implementing the law into practice. To the extent that it is possible, we should be clear about how the process will work. We should also ensure those who choose to assist know where to find the procedural, technical, and emotional support they need. We also need to anticipate the needs associated with post-death and bereavement care, even if we don’t yet know precisely what makes post-voluntary assisted dying care different from other after-death care.
In seeking to address these and, of course, the many more questions that voluntary assisted dying raises, we should remember that nearly three years of concerted consultation ultimately informed the drafting of the Bill, and the Health and Environment Committee’s recommendation that it be passed.
A similar consultative approach is needed as the law is implemented. Consultation will help to clarify the questions most in need of answers. Importantly, it will enable those likely to be affected by the law the feeling to feel as though they are part of the process and that their voices have been heard. This should include those who choose to participate, as well as those who choose not to.
The development of a suite of resources and strategies is imperative; ensuring they are nuanced and reflect the needs of healthcare practitioners so they can see how voluntary assisted dying fits with their current practice, how it will affect the patients they care for, and the careful consideration that is required.
We know that the impetus for these laws is the need to limit the suffering of those at the end of life. How it is implemented will ultimately determine the extent to which this policy objective is achieved.