Opposing Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in WA

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 was introduced into the Legislative Assembly by the Minister for Health, the Hon Roger Cook, on 7 August 2019.

Debate on the Bill in the Legislative Assembly began on Wednesday 28 August 2019 and the Bill passed the second reading vote on 3 September by 44 votes to 12.

For a brief analysis of the Bill and Minister Cook's second reading speech in support of the Bill see here.

During a long consideration-in-detail debate over several late night sittings Minister for Health, Roger Cook, Premier Mark McGowan and Attorney-General John Quigley refused to countenance any proposed amendments and to defend the Bill as both safe and compassionate.

For a critical analysis of their comments see these blogs:

The Bill pass its third reading in the Legislative Assembly by 45 votes to 11.

It now goes to the Legislative Council where debate is expected to begin on Tuesday 15 October and to continue over three consecutive sitting weeks.

Acting Secretary of the Australian Care Alliance is writing to all MLCs warning them that the WA Bill is even more dangerous than the assisted suicide law in Victoria:

As the Western Australian Legislative Council prepares to consider the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 it might be helpful to compare it with the Victorian legislation which has been operating since 19 June 2019.

The first glaring difference is that the WA bill has no prohibition on a medical practitioner proposing euthanasia to a patient without it being raised first by the patient

In the WA Legislative Assembly debate, Sean L’Estrange, the Member for Churchlands, asked the Minister for Health “if a medical practitioner was incredibly supportive of” euthanasia “as a medical option for a patient” and “they were able to introduce into the conversation between themselves and the patient the option of” euthanasia, “how would that be assessed or tested to determine whether opening up that conversation was in and of itself a form of subtle coercion?”.

The Minister saw no risk, ignoring the real danger of steering a vulnerable person towards euthanasia:“This is the matter of bedside conversation, and this is what our medical workforce is there to do— discuss people’s options at the end of life. This is the reason that we place so much trust in our medical workforce.”

So, a medical practitioner can both steer a person towards euthanasia and then assess that same person as not being subject to any coercion – including from that practitioner’s own enthusiastic promotion of euthanasia to the person! The Minister also confirmed that both the second assessing medical practitioner and the medical or nurse practitioner who administers the lethal poison could all be in a commercial relationship with one another.

The second major difference is that the WA bill is primarily a euthanasia bill because it allows opting for the medical practitioner to administer the lethal poison - rather than self-administration or assisted suicide - simply based on any concern a person might have about self-administration. The Minister for Health suggested the Canadian experience as giving an indication of what could be expected in western Australia. 

Easier access to euthanasia as opposed to assisted suicide is of a concern as there is evidence that in jurisdictions where both euthanasia and assisted suicide are available there is a very strong preference for euthanasia (99.86% in Canada) and a higher overall rate than in jurisdictions where only assisted suicide is available. In Canada euthanasia accounts for 1.5 % of all deaths, which is more than three times the 0.44%  of all deaths accounted for by assisted suicide in Oregon, where euthanasia is not an option. There is also evidence from theNetherlands that some medical practitioners become hardened to killing their patients by euthanasia and are willing to intentionally end the lives of other patients by euthanasia without any explicit request. A court in the Netherlands just approved euthanasing a woman with dementia by drugging her and physically restraining her while she struggled against the letjal injection.

The third significant difference is that neither of the two medical practitioners assessing a person's eligibility - based on having a condition which on the balance of probability will cause death within 6 (or in some cases) 12 months - is required to have any specialist qualification or even experience in the relevant condition. This necessarily increases the risk of wrongful deaths due to errors in diagnosis; mistakes in prognosis and failure to offer the best available treatment and care options through lack of expertise in the relevant specialty.

Fourthly, the WA Bill misleadingly directs people in regional areas and medical practitioners to use telehealth for discussions on assisted suicide nothwithstanding that to do so may be a criminal offence under Commonwealth law.

These four substantive differences make the WA bill even more dangerous than the already fatally flawed Victorian legislation.

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