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Euthanasia laws inching closer to reality in WA

Assisted suicide has become a hot topic in WA. Photo: ABC

The WA government has put forward the clearest proposal yet about how legislation permitting assisted suicide will work, in anticipation of upcoming parliamentary debates.

A new report, chaired by former WA governor Malcolm McCusker, sets out who will be able to access euthanasia and the process they will go through.

ASSISTED SUICIDE IN WA

A new report has detailed safeguards that would be in place for assisted-suicide laws in WA, although there is scant detail on what offences would be in place for those who abuse the system.

According to reports, only Austalian citizens or permanent residents who live in WA and who are 18 or older will be eligible for assisted-suicide, and they ‘must have the capacity to make the decision’.

The person seeking euthanasia must be diagnosed with an illness, disease or medical condition that will cause death, and it must be causing suffering that doctors can’t relieve in a ‘tolerable’ way.

Through this process, a person first makes a request for euthanasia to a doctor, who then “properly informs the person” about the euthanasia process.

They are then assessed by an independent doctor or nurse practitioner, where a written request must be submitted if deemed ‘appropriate’ for the ‘treatment’.

Interestingly, there will be no need for a bureaucrat to issue a permit approving the euthanasia, as in Victoria.

The report described how euthanasia would be “burdened by bureaucratic oversight that may not materially add to the safety of the process” if a permit system were required.

After approval, pharmacies dispensing lethal drugs must report to an oversight body.

Both the parliamentary inquiry into euthanasia and the McCusker report are light on details about what criminal offences and penalties would be created for those who abuse the process — if any. 

The report argues it should not be an offence for a doctor to initiate discussions with patients about euthanasia, and an oversight body would be established to review deaths.

Western Australian authorities have released the report amidst a long-running fiery debate across the state since the laws were first proposed, in anticipation of a heated discussion in parliament. 

THE RAGING DEBATE

For years, the euthanasia debate has still not progressed, as no middle path has been struck to pacify those who are for and against this practice — as major arguments surface when the topic arises.

PERSPECTIVES

Advocates for assisted suicide see it as form of mercy that saves a terminally ill person from what can often be a prolonged, painful and expensive natural death. 

They also argue that patients should have the ultimate say over how their lives end without having to consider non-medical forms of suicide.

Further, proponents suggest death is a private matter, and if there is no harm to others, the state and other entities have no right to interfere.

However, concerns have been raised about patients being manipulated into choosing assisted suicide, either by doctors, family members or insurance companies.

Some doctors who support the principle also have concerns about the practice, such as the availability of life-ending drugs in the system and the lack of scholarly research on the topic.

There are also fears that laws could expand to resemble euthanasia laws in the Netherlands, where assisted suicide is permitted for patients as young as 12 and for those with psychiatric disorders. 

Furthermore, moral questions of the ‘value of life’ have arisen from Christian groups across the state, as a number of religions forbid assisted suicide in all cases.

The opposition is seeking a four year moratorium on the introduction of the bill to give time to scrutinise such laws in Victoria, which passed in November 2017 and came into effect last month.

BACKLASH

Since first proposed, the issue of assisted suicide has risen to the forefront of WA politics, with debates leaving the barrister charged with advising government to describe it as a ‘legal minefield’.

Amongst the opposing voices, one of WA’s most senior palliative care nurses has come out in opposition to the looming euthanasia laws set to be debated in parliament.

After more than 30 years working in the public and private palliative care sector, nurse Lou Angus has sent a letter to the Western Australian government, signed by 39 of her colleagues:

“The answer to bad deaths is not euthanasia. The answer is a better understanding of basic medical ethics, of palliative medicine, of what happens to the body when it is dying, and how to care for someone at the end of life.”

The Australian Medical Association also opposes assisted suicide, with WA president Dr Omar Khorshid stating the debate should be on palliative and end-of-life care, “rather than the narrow issue of assisted dying”

Out of the World Medical Association’s 109 constituent national medical associations, 107 oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, including Australia.

All professionals have expressed concerns for whether or not assisted suicide could be provided for dementia patients, safeguards against coercion, and whether doctors and healthcare facilities could “opt out” of providing services.


The McGowan Government is drafting the legislation, which it plans to put before parliament later this year.

While legislation is expected to pass the Legislative Assembly easily, numbers are much tighter in the upper house, where the bill will be subject to intense scrutiny on fine detail.


RELATED CONTENT

WA death debate to intensify as voluntary assisted dying report handed down | Mandurah Mail

Voluntary assisted dying | WA Department of Health

Doctor acquitted of murder in assisted suicide case | The Local

How Dutch Law Got a Little Too Comfortable With Euthanasia | The Atlantic

Call to dump ‘undignified’ assisted dying laws to focus on palliative care | The West Australian

Euthanasia or Physician Assisted Suicide | Australian Medical Association



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