Support for assisted dying grows as public hearings continue

The Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry Into End of Life Choices has held more than 59 public hearings since it was launched last August and although the Joint Select Committee has looked at evidence from both sides of the debate, there has been growing support for assisted dying law reform recently.

In early March, evidence provided to the inquiry by State Coroner Ros Fogliani revealed one West Australian suffering a terminal or debilitating illness takes their own life every nine days. Between 2012 and November last year there were 240 cases of a person with a terminal illness taking their own life, which was 13.9 per cent of reported intentional self-harm cases in WA in the period.

These figures prompted the head of the WA Police Union, George Tilbury, to call for assisted dying to be legalised to give people in certain circumstances a choice to die in a dignified way.

“If they did, there would be less horrific suicides and first responders would be spared having to see as many graphic scenes, most of which stay with them for ever,” he told The West Australian. “Attending suicides takes a toll on police officers and is often very traumatic. (See link to full story below).

Last week the Committee heard evidence from a number of assisted dying advocates including Neil Francis, who runs information website Dying for Choice, TV personality Andrew Denton who founded pro-euthanasia group Go Gentle Australia, Marshall Perron, the former chief minister of the Northern Territory who introduced Australia's first voluntary euthanasia legislation, and controversial Exit International campaigner Phillip Nitschke.

Supporting his written submission, Mr Denton said it was untrue increasing resources for palliative care would rid the need for voluntary euthanasia.

"The words and statistics from palliative care tell us so, as do the many testimonies from families of those who have died badly, despite the best that palliative care can offer," he said. 

The Inquiry will hold a two-day session later this month, before a final session recalling groups including the Australian Medical Association WA for evidence.

Videos of the public hearings are available on the Western Australian Parliament. 

The video of Neil Francis's hearing can be viewed here.

WA Police Union boss George Tilbury backs calls for euthanasia laws

Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry Into End of Life Choices

On 23 August 2017, the Western Australian Parliament established a Joint Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council to inquire and report on the need for laws in Western Australia to allow citizens to make informed decisions regarding their own end of life choices.

Chair of the Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices, Amber‐Jade Sanderson, said the inquiry is an important opportunity for all Western Australians to have their views heard on an issue that affects everyone.

“There is demand within our community for this issue to be examined. We want to give everyone the chance to engage in a process that will explore a range of views and consider proposals for the future”, Ms Sanderson said.

“Cross‐party select committees can achieve great outcomes by working cooperatively and I genuinely hope for that in this process. Although this issue is challenging and contentious, there are principles that we all share: respect for the rights and freedoms that our society provides us and the ability for us to hold fundamentally different views, and compassion for those who are nearing the end of their lives, particularly those suffering under a medical condition that will shorten their lives.”

The Committee will – 

(a) assess the practices currently being utilised within the medical community to assist a person to exercise their preferences for the way they want to manage their end of life when experiencing chronic and/or terminal illnesses, including the role of palliative care;

(b) review the current framework of legislation, proposed legislation and other relevant reports and materials in other Australian States and Territories and overseas jurisdictions;

(c) consider what type of legislative change may be required, including an examination of any federal laws that may impact such legislation; and

(d) examine the role of Advanced Health Directives, Enduring Power of Attorney and Enduring Power of Guardianship laws and the implications for individuals covered by these instruments in any proposed legislation.

The Committee initially invited written submissions and are currently holding their public hearings.

The Committee is expected to deliver its findings by August 23, paving the way for a free parliamentary vote on voluntary assisted dying which could happen before the end of 2018.

If a voluntary assisted dying law passed in the Western Australia Parliament they would become the second Australian state to do so.

Victoria passed their assisted dying legislation late last year and the Victorian scheme is expected to start operating by mid-2019, open to terminally ill, competent adults who have lived in the state for at least 12 months.

Letter received from Dying with Dignity NSW regarding the unsuccessful NSW Bill

Dear Murray Hindle at Dying with Dignity WA,

By now you will have heard the very disappointing news that our Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill failed to pass in the NSW Upper House by one vote. The final vote, taken at 11.15 pm last night, was 19 votes in favour, 20 opposed. We always knew that it would be close, but to lose by just one vote is a blow to all of us. 

The morning started off well with a great gathering of members and supporters wearing blue DWD T-shirts, and holding placards in front of Parliament House. There was lots of media present, and our issue and the imminent debate received lots of coverage on TV, radio, print and digital media.

Shayne Higson and Penny Hackett from our Dying with Dignity board have done a huge amount of work in preparation for the bill, including organising information packages for all MPs, visiting and lobbying MPs, liaising with media, doing interviews, managing social media and creating an online platform that enabled supporters to quickly and easily email MPs over the last few weeks. They have essentially been working full-time on the campaign (unpaid of course) over many months, and both have been dynamos.  

Dr Liz Jacka has also been working very hard behind the scenes, and many of you will have received a phone call or email from Liz as part of our campaign of engagement with MPs.

My thanks also go to the rest of the DWD NSW board for their dedication and hard work over the last few months, including Dee Johnson, Fiona Jackson, Judith Daley and Philip Busfield.  

Our Executive Officer, Gabrielle Brown, has worked long hours across seven days for many months to maintain our website and provide the administrative support for our dynamic campaign.

I am extremely grateful for the dedication and hard work of our fabulous team.

Shayne and Penny spoke to every Upper House MP who was willing to meet with them, and we were able to predict how most would vote. We knew that the final count would be extremely close. Shayne, Penny, Gabrielle, Fiona and I remained at Parliament House until the end of the debate. We listened to 37 speeches, many going for the full 20 minutes that was allocated, and we were hopeful until the end. 

It was instructive watching ‘democracy at work’.  Many speeches were straight out of our religious opponents’ handbook, and many (including, paradoxically, Liberal MPs) cited Paul Keating’s dire warnings of disastrous consequences should the bill be passed. Several made references to God and their religion in describing the reasons for opposing the bill.

Trevor Khan’s speech at the end of the long day was excellent. He persuasively rebutted the spurious arguments of opponents, and made some powerful points. Unfortunately it appeared that most MPs had made up their minds before the debate, and all voted consistently with the stand they declared in their speeches. At the end, Trevor promised to resubmit the bill if this one failed, but we don’t have the energy to think about that at the moment.

Most importantly, I want to say thank you to all of our members and supporters for your efforts to help us get this bill through. Several MPs commented on the huge volume of letters and contacts they received from DWD supporters. Some read out personal letters of support to the Parliament. 

I also want to say thank you for the very generous donations that we received from many of you during 2017, and especially in the lead-up to the bill's presentation to Parliament. You have been incredibly big-hearted, and I am so sorry that we could not deliver a happier outcome.

I have also thanked Trevor and his team for all their hard work, as they are also undoubtedly feeling deflated. Upon reflection, I think we all could not have done any more than we did. I am very sad for all the terminally-ill people in NSW, including Annie Gabrielides, who may now miss out on having the end-of-life choice they deserve. I hope that Trevor will indeed try again before too long, when the time is right, and that we will have bounced back by that time.

Meanwhile, DWD Victoria is going through the excruciating process of watching the Victorian Upper House debate their Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill clause by clause. We really hope that this Australian state will be successful in seeing an assisted dying bill become law in 2017. 

My very best wishes to all,

Sarah Edelman

Dying with Dignity NSW 

Click here to see our short video from Parliament House 16 November 2017


Jeremy Ervine's 'Fade to Black' has won an Impact Docs Award of Excellence. Impact Docs' mission is to "support and promote filmmakers who are making a difference in the critical issues of our times through producing impactful documentaries and who are inspiring and entertaining audiences with their stories."
Come along to one of the advance screenings of 'Fade to Black'. August 9 in Perth (2 screenings 1.30pm and 6pm) - buy your ticket now