Western Australian Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Bill Not Safe
Despite the list of 102 alleged safeguards - trumping Victoria's measly 68 safeguards! - tabled by Health Minister Roger Cook after he delivered his second reading speech - replete with logical contradictions - on Western Australia's Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019, the Bill is fatally flawed and will not prevent wrongful deaths from euthanasia and assisted suicide if passed into law.
Minister Cook, like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, insists the words "euthanasia" and "suicide" mean what he want them to mean - "neither more nor less".
In his second reading speech, Minister Cook claims, in true masterly Humpty Dumpty fashion:
this Bill has nothing to do with euthanasia. This is about providing assistance to someone who is dying. It is not euthanasia.
Palliative care practitioners and family members daily provide "assistance to someone who is dying" through pain and symptom relief, comfort care and a listening, loving presence.
When a doctor - or nurse practitioner - under this Bill injects a person with "a poison for the purpose of causing death" (Clause 7 of the Bill) they are not giving "assistance to someone who is dying". They are - in the words of the Bill itself - causing the death of the person. When this is done for the alleged purpose of ending suffering it is rightly called euthanasia. Fudging the language does not help honest debate.
The Minister is even more masterly - and even more illogical - on the word suicide.
And it is not suicide. It would be wrong to confuse voluntary assisted dying with suicide. The Bill specifically provides that a voluntary assisted death is not a suicide. Suicide involves the tragic loss of life of a person who is otherwise not dying. Voluntary assisted dying involves a person’s choice about the manner of their death when faced with their inevitable and imminent death as a result of an incurable disease, illness or medical condition.
Self-administration under the Bill involves a person taking, what is described in Clause 7 of the Bill, "a poison for the purpose of causing death".
If this is not suicide, what is?
But what about Minister Cook's masterly assertion that "Suicide involves the tragic loss of life of a person who is otherwise not dying"? Can persons with a terminal illness commit suicide or not? Cook says, on the one hand, it is not suicide if you follow the processes set out in his Bill but, on the other hand, he uses as a justification for his Bill a claim that:
in Western Australia around 10% of suicides are linked to chronic disease or terminal illness – these include deaths from plastic bag asphyxiation, hanging and gunshot. We can do better than condemn people to suicide.
So if you have a terminal illness and do something (presumably including ingesting a lethal poison) to directly cause your own death it IS suicide, but if you have a terminal illness and - after following the processes set out in Minister Cook's Bill - ingest a lethal poison to cause your own death it is NOT suicide. Why? Because Minister Cook says so and words mean what he chooses them to mean - neither more nor less!
The Western Australian Bill goes beyond the Victorian model in several key respects that will place Western Australians at even greater risk than Victorians of wrongful death:
- neither of the two assessing doctors needs to have any special qualifications or experience in the person's medical condition;
- rather than having a condition being expected to cause death within a period not exceeding six months (or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions) as in Victoria, the WA Bill only requires that death within those time frames be likely on "the balance of probabilities". This means people with a 49% chance of living for more than six months are eligible;
- in Victoria euthanasia is only available if a person is physically incapable of self-administering the poison, in Western Australia euthanasia can be chosen over assisted suicide based on "the patient’s concerns about self-administering the substance". In other jurisidictions where both euthanasia and assisted suicide are lawful there is a clear preference for euthanasia (99.9% in Ontario and 96.72% in the Netherlands ). This may lead to a higher take up rate as jurisdictions such as Canada and the Netherlands which allow both euthanasia and assisted suicide have a much higher rate of deaths from these practices than those which like Oregon only allow assisted suicide.
Western Australians wishing to oppose the Bill should take action now. .