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Conscientious participants and the ethical dimensions of physician support for legalised voluntary assisted dying


The Australian state of Victoria legalised voluntary assisted dying (VAD) in June 2019. Like most jurisdictions with legalised VAD, the Victorian law constructs physicians as the only legal providers of VAD. Physicians with conscientious objection to VAD are not compelled to participate in the practice, requiring colleagues who are willing to participate to transact the process for eligible applicants. Physicians who provide VAD because of their active, moral and purposeful support for the law are known as conscientious participants. Conscientious participation has received scant attention in the bioethics literature. Patient access to VAD is contingent on the development of a sufficient corpus of conscientious participants in permissive jurisdictions. This article reports the findings of a small empirical study into how some Victorian physicians with no in-principle opposition towards the legalisation of VAD, are ethically orientating themselves towards the law, in the first 8 months of the law’s operation. It finds that in-principle-supportive physicians employ bioethical principles to justify their position but struggle to reconcile that approach with the broader medical profession’s opposition. This study is part of the first tranche of empirical research emerging from Australia since the legalisation of VAD in that country for the first time in over 20 years.

  • clinical ethics
  • end-of-life
  • euthanasia
  • law
  • suicide/assisted suicide

Data availability statement

Data are available upon request.

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