The West Australian government is poised to introduce euthanasia laws that are more liberal than those operating in Victoria after an expert panel recommended that patients should be eligible for voluntary assisted dying if they have a disease likely to cause death within 12 months.  This contrasts with Victoria where terminally-ill people must have less than six months to live to qualify to end their lives by taking lethal medication.  The 13-member expert panel, chaired by former governor Malcolm McCusker, also recommended that nurse practitioners be able to give permission for a patient to access the scheme in WA.

In Victoria, where new laws recently came into effect, the assessment of a patient’s eligibility can only be made by two doctors.  The WA panel has adopted that safeguard, but recommended that the second assessment can also be done by a qualified nurse practitioner, given the scarcity of doctors in country areas of WA.  Nurse practitioners are senior clinical nurses who have completed additional university studies.  The planned WA scheme would also differ from Victoria, the first VAD (Voluntary Assisted Dying) scheme in the nation, by allowing doctors to raise the subject of euthanasia with their patients.

Victoria prohibits health practitioners from starting a conversation about voluntary assisted dying.  “Many health practitioners are reluctant to discuss end-of-life care with people,” the panel said.  “It is also known that up to 60% of Australians may not have the knowledge or confidence to start discussions about specific treatments or options that have not already been raised by their health practitioner.”  The panel recommended that people who have lived in WA for less than 12 months should be able to access the scheme by making a special application to the State Administrative Tribunal.

In Victoria, a patient must have been a resident in the state for 12 months at the time of making a request for euthanasia.  Mr McCusker said the panel felt a different policy was needed in WA due to its large fly-in fly-out population.  Under the proposed WA scheme, a patient must have decision-making capacities, which would preclude people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  They must make three requests, two orally and one in writing.  Two adult witnesses to the written application must also prove they will not benefit financially from the person’s death.

A person eligible for assisted dying would self-administer the lethal medication themselves, although a doctor would be able to assist the patient if needed.  Only those whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” within 12 months can apply.  The panel made 31 recommendations for the proposed laws after consultations in 11 metropolitan and regional centres across WA.  Health Minister Roger Cook said the report would help in the development of legislation that will be introduced into parliament in August.  Dying With Dignity WA president Steve Walker welcomed the report.  The Australian Medical Association, which opposes euthanasia has not commented.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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