End of Life Law - Mythbusters Legal protection for administering pain and symptom relief

Mythbusters: Legal Protection for Administering Pain and Symptom Relief

Myth 1:

A health professional performs voluntary assisted dying if they provide pain relief medication that hastens a person’s death

No. Giving medication for pain and symptom management in accordance with good medical practice is legal so long as the health professional’s intention is to reduce or relieve a person’s pain and symptoms, and not to hasten death. This is the case even if the health professional knows death may be hastened by providing the medication. Health professionals are legally protected by the doctrine of double effect.

Myth 2:

A health professional or other person assists dying by allowing someone to refuse food or drink

No. If a person has capacity to refuse food or drink, then respecting their refusal and not force-feeding the person is not assisting them to die.

Myth 3:

The doctrine of double effect will only protect a doctor

No. In most Australian States and Territories a doctor, nurse, carer or family member can give medication and be legally protected by the doctrine of double effect. Generally however, the medication must be ordered or supervised by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The law in South Australia is slightly different. The medication must be given by the practitioner responsible for the person’s treatment, or a person supervised by that practitioner, such as a nurse or carer.

Page updated 03 April 2024