Nurses have identified an urgent need for Australia to have a serious and comprehensive conversation about supporting individual patient choice when it comes to end-of-life decision making.
Speaking following passage through the Victorian Parliament of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill, Australian College of Nursing CEO, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, said “Over the past 12 months we have asked the profession to tell us their policy priorities. More patient choice regarding end-of-life care was one of four topics nurses asked us to discuss at our first annual National Policy Forum, which we held in April.
“Nurses want patients to have dignity and choice at the end of life. This requires a health policy discussion to determine whether current practice reflects the community’s preferences not only in terms of where they wish to die, but when to die.
“With legislation being passed that from 2019 will give Victorians living with a terminal illness access to voluntary assisted dying, it is now time to work out what outstanding questions exist and answers to them.”
Nurses already receive requests for assisted dying and numerous studies have shown that over the past 20 years 1%-18% of nurses provided or prescribed drugs to a patient knowing the patient intended to use them to hasten death or intentionally injected drugs to hasten a patient’s death.
“Nurses must be involved in high level policy discussions with governments in order to clearly define roles to protect nurses working with terminally-ill patients choosing to die. Nurses are guided by their Code of Ethics, but we must ensure their role in supporting end-of-life decisions is closely considered.”
The Australian College of Nursing also believes communication between health professionals and terminally ill patients must be significantly improved to support end-of-life decision making. Patients must have certainty their wishes will be respected, and the decision-making process and responsibilities have to be absolutely clear to health professionals.