Experts have run a survey on the contentious issue of what older people think about voluntary assisted death (VAD), regardless of any health condition.

Participants in the study believed that, in principle, people should have the right to choose VAD even if they do not have a terminal illness, but stressed checks and balances must be in place. 

It is about having the choice over ending one’s life, they said, regardless of whether they would actually opt for it. Having the choice alone was found to be empowering.

The in-depth qualitative study saw 15 Australians aged 65 years or older interviewed regarding their perspectives on VAD, which has become a choice for terminally ill adults in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria.

Previous research has focused on views on assisted death in relation to terminal illness. Unique to this study was perspectives on VAD regardless of any health condition.

"There were arguments for and against VAD,” said lead researcher, Edith Cowan University (ECU) psychology researcher Dr Eyal Gringart.

“Participants expressed a desire for personal choice and said they wanted control over VAD if and when they could no longer be able to look after themselves.

“However, they thought it was important that legislation be written to protect vulnerable people from being coerced to seek VAD by family members or others who do not have the person’s best interest at heart.”

Dr Gringart said religious beliefs also formed part of people’s views.

“Some participants did not see a need for VAD due to their religious values and beliefs, while others saw merit for VAD despite their religious affiliations,” Dr Gringart said.

Physical illness was seen as a more compelling reason for VAD than mental illness and, overall, VAD seemed a more appropriate option in later life.

“There was some ambiguity as to what constitutes a rational reason for wanting to use VAD, people saw the need for each case to be viewed individually,” Dr Gringart said.

Dr Gringart said the topics of connection, meaning, and gaining enjoyment in life were also explored.

“Participants talked about the importance of social connections, the interconnectedness of people, and gaining enjoyment from life.

“Once those are no longer a part of one’s lived experience, life may not be worth living.

“If those connections were lost in later life, people said those wanting to access VAD should have the option,” Dr Gringart said.

The next phase of Dr Gringart’s research is a large-scale quantitative study to further explore Australian perspectives on voluntary assisted death. People over 18 who are interested in being part of this study are encouraged to visit the webpage to find out more.