Conscientious Objection and Voluntary Assisted Dying: A Continuum of Approaches Described by Health Professionals

Miss Casey Haining1, Professor Louise Keogh1

1University Of Melbourne, , Australia

When voluntary assisted dying (VAD) was legalised in Victoria, it was apparent that a subset of the medical community, due to a conflict in conscience, would not be participating in the process. Section seven of the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 enshrined the right for registered health practitioners to refuse to partake in the VAD process due to a conscientious objection (CO). Given the limited empirical evidence on VAD and CO, it was unclear how this provision would operate in practice and how a health practitioner would manage their CO when a patient requested VAD. This research aimed to bridge this gap by conducting seventeen semi-structured interviews with Victorian health professionals with a CO to VAD in the lead-up to its implementation in 2019, to uncover how health professionals anticipated exercising their right to CO in practice. Our study revealed that the way in which health professionals anticipated exercising their CO varied. The different anticipated behaviours of participants could be broadly categorised on a continuum as dissuasive non-referrers, passive non-referrers, facilitators, or negotiators. The perceived difficulties of exercising a CO were also explored by this study.


Casey Haining works as a research assistant at the University of Melbourne and is the National Policy Manager at Advance Care Planning Australia. Having qualifications in law and biomedicine, Casey is incredibly passionate about interdisciplinary research and exploring the influence of law on medical practice.

Professor Louise Keogh is a health sociologist at the University of Melbourne. She is an expert qualitative researcher who has been conducting research into sensitive health issues for over 20 years. Professor Keogh is currently a Chief Investigator on the ARC grant: Reducing the Harms Associated with Conscientious Objection to Abortion.

Recent Comments