Almost two years ago, I decided to stand up for those of us who have died, are dying and will die in a way none of us would find acceptable.
Since then, sadly, hundreds of Western Australians have suffered a needlessly painful and distressing death.
Their loved ones know exactly what I am talking about.
It is unfortunate that some people cannot imagine the pain of others until it happens to them or their loved ones.
Too often, compassion is a word used to describe superficial sympathy for another person’s plight.
My understanding of compassion is much more than this: feeling sympathy for someone’s suffering without action amounts to nothing.
This is why I have helped my patients when they requested help and this is why I am willing to make a personal sacrifice to help solve a huge problem in our society.
Our mortality is a given, no matter how hard we try to avoid and delay it.
The fact is that 5-10 per cent of us die while suffering significant and severe distress, despite expert palliative care.*
As you are reading this, somewhere in Western Australia, people are dying a terrible death.
If we could observe this, if we could hear their cries for help, we would all be marching on the street demanding change.
But all this suffering happens behind closed doors, so most of us can pretend it is not happening.
One day, however, this may happen to you, but then it may be too late!
This needless end-of-life suffering is avoidable through law reform. A law that allows a dying person to ask for medical assistance to die more quickly.
This is not an act of suicide, nor a way to wimp out of life.
This is common sense.
Imagine knowing that you have control over when your suffering has reached its maximum and you are able to choose, surrounded by your loved ones, to die sooner in order to stop your suffering.
This knowledge would allow one to focus on living rather than fearing the way one will die. This knowledge is life-affirming!
Some of my compassionate colleagues and I know this and have provided relief from a miserable slow death for our patients.
The AMA (WA) president Omar Khorsid stated on Seven News on Saturday, July 28:
“We (doctors) shorten patients lives regularly if that’s the right thing to do at the very end of life.”
My legal advice from Hammond Legal is that a doctor could be charged with murder if a patient’s death is hastened and life is shortened.
The sad fact is that many doctors do not want to risk prosecution or are morally opposed and let their patients suffer a slow, painful death.
It is very encouraging that the AMA has publicly stated that doctors regularly shorten patients’ lives, however, the dying are dependent on the stance of their doctors for the care they receive.
Currently, doctors decide “if it is the right thing to do” and if they will assist.
Currently, there are no safeguards, no transparency, no accountability nor universal availability for a hastened death.
The current situation is dangerous. The lack of safeguards makes it open to abuse.
The lack of universal availability causes terminally ill people to take matters into their own hands often in violent or lonely ways. How awful for their loved ones!
Furthermore, death and dying are not merely clinical matters. They are a very personal aspect of the human experience.
No one other than the person who is dying should be able to decide what that dying process for them should involve.
A carefully safeguarded Voluntary Assisted Dying Law would put the dying person in control of their situation, so that they alone and not their doctor nor their disease decides when their suffering ends.
This option has been available in over 15 jurisdictions around the world for decades with no evidence of the problems that opponents fear.
On August 23, the joint select committee inquiry into end-of- life choices will report its findings after 12 months of gathering evidence.
I anticipate that the inquiry will come to the same conclusion as the Victorian inquiry: that there is a need for a voluntary assisted dying law for WA.
I have every faith that the McGowan Government will act on this recommendation with some urgency and table a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.
The Government needs to know that it has the support of well over 80 per cent of the WA public on this matter.
To show this support, you can contact your member of Parliament to request action.
You can also join Dying with Dignity WA and visit their website at www.dwdwa.org.au
Hopefully, August 23 will be a day that will mark the beginning of a change towards a more enlightened, compassionate society in allowing WA citizens the democratic right to make their own end of life decisions.
Dr Alida Lancee MBBS (UWA), FRACGP