Michelle Richardson
UnitingCare Chaplain Holistic Care, UnitingCare Queensland


With a background in missional leadership, Michelle provides oversight and management of chaplaincy programs and pastoral and spiritual care across UnitingCare in Queensland.  Over the past eight years, she has overseen the development of several new services in holistic care and the expansion of key programs connecting congregations, communities and volunteers with UnitingCare services.

Michelle is passionate that chaplaincy services are ministries of compassion, involving care for the emotional, spiritual and wellbeing needs of staff, volunteers, clients, residents and their families.

As a UnitingCare staff chaplain, Michelle supports holistic wellbeing for staff to live life in all its fullness, both personally and collectively.  To thrive holistically, sustainably, and generously with the resilience to navigate and move through life’s challenges.  She is available to provide spiritual care and emergency or post critical incident support to all UnitingCare staff.


Voluntary Assisted Dying – Navigating the ethical, legal and practice complexities in Queensland

Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) became available to Queenslanders on 1 January 2023. UnitingCare Queensland is an agency of the Uniting Church operating private hospitals, aged care services, and family and disability services. Our aged care and community palliative care services are operated by BlueCare. Since voluntary assisted dying became available we have recorded over 10 cases where people have accessed this process to end their lives. These cases have largely occurred in our community aged care and palliative care services and our residential aged care services.

As a faith-based organisation, navigating the ethical, legal and practice complexities of voluntary assisted dying has taken significant care and effort. This is particularly complex in Queensland with specific obligations to be involved in processes associated with VAD for organisations classified as non-participating entities. To support our staff navigate these complexities we have developed a clear policy, range of procedures, tiered e-training modules for frontline staff, managers and VAD Advisors, and a pastoral support resource book for chaplains. Our VAD Advisors are an internal and informal team of people who have extra training in the legislation and policy who support our teams as voluntary assisted dying matters arise.

As an organisation, UnitingCare Queensland upholds the rights and dignity of Queenslanders who choose to access voluntary assisted dying under the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 (Qld) (the Act). Our policy and practice response is guided by the Uniting Church in Australia Queensland Synod and complies with our legal obligations under the Act as a non-participating entity.

When a person chooses to explore and access VAD, we continue to provide all regular services alongside a compassionate and pastoral response. This includes:
– continuing people’s care in our hospitals, aged care facilities and community services provided by UCQ; and
– offering emotional, psychological, social, spiritual and pastoral care support, consistent with UnitingCare values, service philosophies and end of life framework.

Staff can conscientiously object to involvement in any part of a person’s choice to access VAD. In these cases, we ensure support is arranged for continuity of care.

As our staff and teams have been walking alongside people accessing voluntary assisted dying we have observed that this can be very confronting for people. Even highly experienced palliative care doctors and nurses, who are supportive of voluntary assisted dying have had strong emotional reactions to this process, with significant experiences of moral distress. To support our staff we are working with our chaplaincy team to stand up debriefing support and are establishing further training in helping people manage moral distress and create new rituals to farewell and support each other when people access voluntary assisted dying.