WA Euthanasia Proposal Fatally Flawed
The final report of the Ministerial Expert Panel appointed by the Western Australian Labor Government includes 33 recommendations for yet another fatally flawed experiment with assisted suicide and euthanasia that would put vulnerable Western Australians at risk of wrongful deaths.
The proposed scheme would allow for broader access than in Victoria with the key eligibility criteria to include that "death is reasonably foreseeable for the person within a period of 12 months". This recommendation borrows the language of the Canadian law where it has been given a very broad interpretation in the courts. This is significantly broader than the Victorian law which requires that death be expected within six months (or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions).
The proposed WA scheme would also allow euthanasia - where a doctor or nurse practitioner injects the person with a lethal substance - more readily than in Victoria, where this is limited to those persons who are assessed as "physically incapable of self-administering". In Western Australia, it is proposed that it be a matter of "clinical determination" between the doctor or nurse practitioner and the person as to whether assisted suicide or euthanasia is more "suitable for the person". the factors to be considered include any matter the clinician or person sees as "necessary to the decision making".
Evidence from other jurisdictions such as the Netherlands and Canada shows that where both options are available the overwhelming majority of people prefer euthanasia and that the per capita rate of euthanasia and assisted suicide is significantly higher than in jurisdictions, such as Oregon, where only assisted suicide is lawful.
In Victoria it is an offence for a doctor to initiate a discussion with a patient about assisted suicide or euthanasia. It is proposed that in Western Australia there be no restraint on doctors proposing assisted suicide or euthanasia as a suitable option to their patients.
In Victoria at least one of the two assessing doctors must have "relevant expertise and experience in the disease, illness or medical condition expected to cause the person's death". The Western Australian proposal is that two GPs with only 1 year specialist registration (the second assessor could be a newly registered nurse practitioner instead) each could assess the person's diagnosis, prognosis, treatment options and palliative care options without either of them having any such "relevant expertise and experience".
The Panel apparently expects these doctors and nurse practitioners to make mistakes in assessing life expectancy "If a person assessed as eligible for voluntary assisted dying were to survive beyond 12 months that would not mean that the assessment made by the practitioner was not a genuine assessment made in good faith."
If a person assessed as eligible for voluntary assisted dying were to survive beyond 12 months that would not mean that the assessment made by the practitioner was not a genuine assessment made in good faith.
The Western Australian proposals seeks to conscript all health services and health practitioners who object to assisted suicide and euthanasia to nonetheless provide "information sufficient to enable the person to access information regarding" these. Presumably it is proposed that it be an offence not to do so. In Ontario a court has told doctors who object to facilitating access to assisted suicide and euthanasia to abandon their current practices and redeploy in the hair replacement industry.
The proposal leaves the door open for euthanasia tourism by recommending dropping the 12 months residency requirement "in exceptional circumstances, on compassionate grounds".
As in Victoria the criterion that a person is "suffering" is to be interpreted solely by the person - anyone who says they are suffering meets this criterion. Evidence from other jurisdictions, including Canada, is that existential suffering, such as feeling like a burden on the family or loss of purpose, is the most common suffering with very little concern about pain and other physical symptoms.
The Panel supports the use of telehealth discussing and making assessments about eligibility for assisted suicide and euthanasia. No consideration seems to have been given to the conflict this would involve with the Commonwealth Criminal Code which makes it an offence to use a "carriages service" to communicate "suicide related material". Victorian doctors were recently told not to use the telephone or Skype for these purposes for this reason.
As in Victoria there is no effective measure for screening for subtle coercion or lack of decision making capacity other than a purely optional referral to "a health practitioner with relevant expertise for further assessment" if either of the assessing practitioners feels "unable to determine that the person’s decision is voluntary and valid".
The proposed scheme would have the same minimal period of nine days - reducible to one day in some circumstances - between a person first asking for assisted suicide or euthanasia and the person making a final request as in Victoria. The proposal rejects the Victorian scheme of State issued suicide or euthanasia permits which are subject to a 3 business day maximum turn around.
So if the scheme is enacted on the day a person is diagnosed with cancer which could reasonably be foreseen to cause death within 12 months the doctor giving the diagnosis could recommend euthanasia as an option, the person could request this and be given a lethal injection nine days later.
While the Victorian scheme is widely, if misleadingly, trumpeted by its supporters as the "safest and most conservative" scheme in the world, the most the Ministerial Expert Panel is prepared to claim for its proposed scheme is that it would set "a new standard of prudent legislative oversight of" decisions to intentionally end the life of Western Australians by assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Rather than setting a new standard of prudent oversight the proposed scheme is recklessly indifferent to the inevitable wrongful deaths that will result if it is adopted by the Parliament of Western Australia.
See our TAKE ACTION WA page for suggestions on how to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia in Western Australia.