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Phil Laing is one of five Tasmanians who have died through accessing voluntary assisted dying – ABC News

It has been just over two months since Rose said goodbye to her dad, Phil Laing — one of the first Tasmanians to die through the state’s voluntary assisted dying laws.

Key points:

“We had a huge discussion about it one day, and I said: ‘Are you scared to die?'” Ms Laing said.

“And he said, ‘I think I’d be more scared to keep living and have to go through the suffering.'”

The Laing family is not alone in having gone through this process.

In the first four months of being legalised, Tasmania’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Commission said there had been:

Phil and wife Sally in earlier years. He's hugging her from behind. They're young and healthy.

Last day with friends and family

For the Laing family, it meant their beloved father and husband — who was living with rapidly progressing motor neurone disease — could die with dignity, and on his own terms.

His last day was spent at the beach and at home, with close family and friends and a nurse by the family’s side to oversee the final process.

“He went down to the beach that morning and everyone had champagne and had plates of berries, and we just had this big group of people and a lot of laughs and tears were shed,” Ms Laing said.

A man in a wheelchair on a back deck and surrounded by smiling people.

“He got to throw the ball for [the family dog] Lola one more time, he told everybody he loved them, to look after themselves … and then he was able to go peacefully.”

A man sits on a couch with his daughter, wife and dog

Strict rules to access voluntary assisted dying

Accessing VAD in Tasmania is an intentionally thorough process.

Individuals have to be 18 or over and suffering from an advanced, incurable, and irreversible disease, illness, injury or medical condition for which there is no reasonably available treatment.

That condition must be expected to cause their death within six or 12 months, depending on the illness.

Necessary training is also required for practitioners who wish to assist an eligible individual through the process.

According to the commission, currently more than 50 people have completed the training — with that figure including 23 medical practitioners and 21 registered nurses.

A man laughs with his wife as he holds a glass of wine.

“Of the 23 medical practitioners who completed the training, 16 indicated they were willing to be primary medical practitioners and/or consulting medical practitioners,” they said.

“Of the 21 registered nurses, 15 indicated they were willing to be administering health practitioners.”

Those who complete the training are under no obligation to be further involved in the VAD process, with it being their choice on every occasion.

The commission said the current uptake of the training was positive, with the number expected to grow over time.

“The experience of other states also suggests that more willing and trained practitioners to participate in the VAD process will always be required,” they said.

It is a message supported by Ms Laing.

“It gives me a lot of hope,” she said. 

“It did just feel like a privilege; it was so beautiful and such a nice way to go and we had this amazing nurse.

“I hope that other people can have that experience as well.”

Choice brings comfort

MLC Mike Gaffney, who played a vital role in getting the legislation passed, said it was pleasing to see the information from the commission come out.

“I was so heartened by the fact that now people in Tasmania have the right to choose, if they’re eligible,” he said.

Having that choice in itself can bring comfort, Mr Gaffney said, with not all who start the process of VAD deciding to continue down that path.

“They’re comforted by the fact that they could, if things get bad, but their health and wellbeing is better because they know that they are eligible,” he said.

“If we think about what’s gone on in the past, where we haven’t had that option, there have been some terrible circumstances. And so hopefully now, those people who choose to be part of the VAD process, will see the benefits of it.”

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