The McGowan Labor government will introduce Australia’s most liberal voluntary assisted dying laws following a marathon parliamentary debate. The West Australian government was forced to drop one of the most contentious elements of its planned laws; a clause that gave authority to about 70,000 people from 16 occupations to suggest voluntary assisted dying to a person with a terminal illness. This included podiatrists, optometrists, dental hygienists, chiropractors and people practising Chinese medicine. The amended bill that passed the WA upper house 24-11 last week still allows doctors and senior nurses to raise the subject of voluntary assisted dying with a patient.
This is not permitted in Victoria, which in June became the first state to make voluntary assisted dying legal. There, the onus is on the patient to tell their doctor they want help to die. The WA bill, which is due to become law after the lower house approves amendments is more practical than Victoria’s, according to Perth doctor Alida Lancee, who became the face of Australia’s euthanasia debate in 2015 when she admitted giving a lethal dose of morphine to an 80-year-old woman with end-stage emphysema. The woman had tried to take her own life twice.
Dr Lancee said the WA laws would be better than Victoria’s which placed too many obstacles in the way of a terminally ill person who wanted to die well. In WA, a doctor with a conscientious objection to voluntary assisted dying will be able to refuse to help a patient die but still must give the patient standardised information about the steps they can take and how. In Victoria, doctors with a conscientious objection are under no obligation to provide information about voluntary assisted dying to a patient who asks. “If you are in dire straits, the last thing you need is a doctor who gives you judgment,” Dr Lancee said.
Greens MP Robin Chapple, who helped usher the bill through the upper house, said he was proud to be part of a decades-long movement “to ensure we all have the comfort of choice at the end of our lives”. “This is a momentous occasion, and I am beside myself with relief and happiness,” Mr Chapple said. The bill was supported by 12 Labor MPs, two Liberals, four Nationals, four Greens and one MP each from One Nation and the Liberal Democrats. Seven Liberal MPs were opposed along with one each from Labor, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and one independent.
The WA laws will make voluntary assisted dying available only to adults who have been given a terminal diagnosis, are in intolerable pain and have between six and 12 months to live depending on the illness. This is the same as in Victoria. But under the WA laws, a patient will be able to get help to die provided they have been independently assessed by two doctors. Both doctors can be GPs so long as they have 10 years of experience. The process is stricter in Victoria, where one of the assessing doctors must have “specialised knowledge or qualifications” in the illness that the patient is dying from.
Source: Compiled by APN from media reports