Western Australia has become the second state in Australia to make voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legal, after passing historic new laws in parliament on Tuesday.

The heavily amended Bill makes Western Australia only the 19th jurisdiction in the world to support assisted dying.

“The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 has cleared its final hurdle in Western Australian parliament, making WA the second state in the nation after Victoria to pass a contemporary, compassionate and safe voluntary assisted dying law,” a statement from Go Gentle said.

Campaigners for the bill expressed their relief on the vote.

VAD campaigner Belinda Teh said, “To every brave Western Australian who put their shoulders to the wheel and raised their voice, thanks to you, Australia is now a more compassionate place.” 

Rhonda Taylor, who is terminally ill, said, “It’s such a gift to give to somebody. Knowing what’s coming and knowing that you can prepare for it in a way that’s not going to traumatise yourself or people around you that you love.” 

“Relieving intolerable suffering”

There were emotional scenes on the floor of Parliament after the Bill passed, with Health Minister Roger Cook fighting back tears as he made his final address to the house. 

“We are at the end of a very long process, a momentous process for the West Australian parliament and West Australian public,” he said.

“It’s not a time for jubilation. Everyone knows what this legislation is about. It’s about reflection. And to reflect that we’ve chosen compassion and the right to choose.” 

Premier Mark McGowan said, “We are now even closer to relieving intolerable suffering to those who would be eligible for voluntary assisted dying.

“Introducing these laws has been complex and challenging and my thanks and appreciation goes to my colleagues and all the hardworking staff for their dedication in delivering the passage of this delicate Bill through Parliament.”

“To all the supporters of voluntary assisted dying and to all the people who have lost a loved one who wanted the choice – we thank you for your unwavering support, your contribution, your stories, your consultation and for entrusting us with this task. We did it for you.”

Who is eligible?

Western Australia’s law requires that VAD is only available to a person who: 

  • is aged 18 years and over, 
  • has a terminal illness that causes intolerable suffering,
  • is likely to die within six months, or 12 months if they have a neurodegenerative condition,
  • has decision-making capacity,
  • is an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and
  • has been a Western Australian resident for at least 12 months.

How will the laws work?

The laws are modelled on similar laws that were passed in Victoria in 2017. 

Dying with Dignity WA president, Stephen Walker, said, “The law balances strong safeguards with appropriate accessibility, which together will, at long last, give many dying people the choice to limit their suffering at the end of life.”

  • A person wishing to access VAD must make three requests to access the laws, two verbal requests, and one written. The requests must be signed off by two doctors, a coordinating practitioner and a consulting practitioner, who are independent of each other.
  • A minimum of nine days must pass between the initial request and final approval.
  • The choice of lethal medication ingested will be a decision made by doctors who will be able to choose from an approved list of drugs.
  • The person who wishes to access VAD must make the request themselves. No other person can make a request on someone else’s behalf. 
  • VAD can not be accessed through an advance care directive.
  • Any healthcare worker may decline to take part in VAD for any reason, without penalty.
  • A Review Board will be established to assess assisted dying reports, and will refer questionable cases to authorities.
  • Parliament will review the law and summary reports from time to time.

Western Australia’s VAD laws are different to those in Victoria in some important ways. For example, in Western Australia, doctors and nurses will be able to initiate conversations about VAD with their patients.

“This ensures people with terminal illnesses are aware of all their options, including treatments, palliative care and assisted dying,” Go Gentle said.

VAD is expected to be available to eligible patients in around 18 months.

Starting conversations about end of life

Go Gentle said the debate about VAD has led to increased funding and support for palliative care. 

“We believe the passing of VAD law will lead to better and more compassionate end of life choices for all West Australians,” they said.

Will other states follow WA’s lead?

With two states in Australia now allowing VAD, Go Gentle said there is nothing holding other states back from implementing similar laws. 

“There is no excuse now for other States not to follow suit. There is no excuse now for the Territories not to have restored their right to decide this issue for themselves,” Go Gentle said.

Image: WA Premier Mark McGowan embraces dying with dignity campaigner Belinda Teh. Source: Mark McGowan twitter.

 

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