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Coping with grief after voluntary assisted dying: A guide for family and friends 

If you are grieving for someone who accessed voluntary assisted dying, you may feel a range of emotions and challenges. This resource offers practical information and guidance to help you cope.
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Disclaimer: The content provided in this document is for informational purposes only. It has been developed to provide grief support information for family, carers and friends of people who have accessed voluntary assisted dying.  Additional resources have been provided at the end of this document for people seeking detailed information about voluntary assisted dying. 

What is voluntary assisted dying?

Voluntary assisted dying is the assistance provided by a health practitioner to a person with a terminal disease, illness or medical condition to end their life. It is sometimes called voluntary euthanasia or medical assistance to die.  

Is voluntary assisted dying legal in Australia?

Laws that allow people access to voluntary assisted dying in Australia have been passed in all states including Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. Voluntary assisted dying is not currently available in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. 

The experience of grief during the voluntary assisted dying process can be complex and multifaceted.  

Grief is a highly individual and personal experience, and the nature of your relationship with the person who has accessed voluntary assisted dying can shape the way you feel and respond. 

Factors such as the length of the illness, the amount of time caregiving, your support network, coping strategies, and personal beliefs and values, can also play a significant role in your grief experience. 

Common emotions and challenges that may arise

Relief

When a person you are close to has accessed voluntary assisted dying, you may feel relief that they are free from their pain and suffering. On the other hand, if the relationship was more distant or strained, the grief may be less intense or even non-existent. 

Comfort

You might find comfort knowing the person has a choice regarding the time, place and who they would like to surround themselves with when they die. Voluntary assisted dying can allow more time for you to prepare for and accept the person’s death than you would otherwise. 

Abandoned

You may not be ready to let the person go and feel a sense of being abandoned by their choice, even though you respect it and understand their reasons. 

Anticipation

You may experience grief before the person has died. When someone is accessing voluntary assisted dying, their death will be planned and expected and it is natural to feel sad, distressed and anxious in the time leading up to the person’s death. 

Guilt

Despite feeling relieved, you may also experience feelings of guilt or regret. You may question whether they could have done more to ease the person’s pain or whether you should have supported their decision to pursue voluntary assisted dying. 

Anger

You may feel anger or frustration at the medical system, society, or even the person who chose a voluntary assisted dying death. You may feel that the medical system failed them, or that society’s views on death and dying are too limiting. 

Sadness

As with any loss, you may feel overwhelming sadness and grief. You may miss the person who has died deeply and struggle to come to terms with their absence. 

Isolation

You may feel isolated in your grief, particularly if the person belongs to a community or culture where voluntary assisted dying is not widely accepted. 

You may not experience any or all of these thoughts and feelings, but if you do, they will not necessarily come in any specific order. Your grief is unique and personal to you. 

Grief support for family, friends and carers during voluntary assisted dying

It is important for you to seek out support during this difficult time, whether through counselling, support groups, or other resources. You may benefit from talking through your feelings with others who have gone through a similar experience. 

When a person close to you decides to choose voluntary assisted dying, it can be a challenging and emotional time. At Griefline, we promote the practice of self-care, connecting with others who understand and asking for help from trusted people and sources during this time. Here are some ways that you can support yourself: 

Connect with a support group

Joining a support group can provide a sense of community and connection with others who are going through a similar experience. There are many support groups available online or in person, including those specifically for caregivers. 

Take breaks

It is essential to take breaks from caregiving responsibilities to rest and recharge. Friends and family members can help by taking over caregiving duties for a few hours or days to give the primary caregiver a break. 

Practice self-care

Prioritise your own wellbeing by taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Engage in activities that you enjoy, which may include walking the dog, meditating, reading a book or spending time with friends. 

Seek professional support

Consider seeking support from a therapist or counsellor who specialises in grief and loss. They can help you process your emotions and provide guidance on coping strategies and how to tap into your personal strengths while processing your grief. 

Ultimately, your experience of grief will depend on a variety of factors, including your relationship with the person who has chosen voluntary assisted dying, your personal beliefs and values, and your own experiences with death and dying. It is important to recognise that there is no “right” way to grieve and to allow yourself to feel and process emotions in your own way and time. 

Griefline support services

Griefline and Dying with Dignity Victoria offer free pre- and post-VAD support groups

For more information and to register your expression of interest, visit: 

Griefline offers free telephone support services nationwide, 7 days a week, 365 days a year

Telephone support sessions are secure and confidential and available to adults aged 18 years and over. The toll-free helpline is available between the hours of 8am and 8pm, 7 days (AEST/AEDT) or you may prefer to book a call at a time that suits you. For more information click on the following link griefline.org.au/get-help/free-telephone-support

Online community forums are available 24/7

Share your experience with others who can empathise with you. For more information click on the following link: griefline.org.au/get-help/online-forums 

Additional VAD news, information, support and resources

State/Territory

Australian Capital Territory 

Dying with Dignity ACT https://www.dwdact.org.au/ 

New South Wales 

Dying with Dignity NSW https://www.dwdnsw.org.au/ 

Northern Territory 

Northern Territory Voluntary Euthanasia Society https://ntves.org.au/ 

Queensland 

Dying with Dignity Queensland https://www.dwdq.org.au/ 

Queensland Voluntary Assisted Dying Support Service 

South Australia 

Voluntary Assisted Dying South Australia https://www.vadsa.org.au/ 

South Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigator Service 

Tasmania 

Dying with Dignity Tasmania https://www.dwdtas.org.au/ 

Voluntary Assisted Dying Navigation Service 

Victoria 

Dying with Dignity Victoria https://www.dwdv.org.au/ 

Victoria Voluntary Assisted Dying Care Navigator Service  

Western Australia 

Dying with Dignity WA https://www.dwdwa.org.au/ 

WA Voluntary Assisted Dying Statewide Care Navigator Service  

National

Go Gentle Australia: https://www.gogentleaustralia.org.au/vad_in_australia 

End of Life Law Australia: https://end-of-life.qut.edu.au/assisteddying 

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