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 was an important opportunity for all Western Australians to have their views heard on an issue that affects everyone.
“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,” Ms Sanderson said.
The Committee was set up to –
(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. These were followed by public hearings.
The Committee delivered its findings on Thursday 23 August 2018, paving the way for a free parliamentary vote on voluntary assisted dying legislation which is likely to happen before the end of 2019.
The Committee recommended that the Minister for Health establish an expert panel including health and legal practitioners and health consumers to undertake consultation and develop legislation for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia.
The panel would provide a mechanism for the government to consult with "key stakeholders" during the drafting of the bill, Ms Sanderson said.
Expert Panel Appointed
On 12 November 2018, the Western Australian Government announced that it would introduce a Bill into State Parliament in 2019 to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
The decision came after the Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices recommended the new law in its August report ‘My Life, My Choice‘, arguing that protracted death from a terminal, chronic or neurological condition can have a devastating effect on patients and their families. It also reasoned that for people with grievous and irremediable suffering, where death is a foreseeable outcome of the condition, voluntary assisted dying should be an option.
In a written statement, Health Minister Roger Cook said the Government was committed to ensuring that Western Australians have access to to high-quality end-of-life and palliative care. At the same time the Health Minister announced the appointment of a Ministerial Expert Panel to provide advice to government on a safe and compassionate framework for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia.
“Introducing this legislation is a complex and challenging task for the McGowan Government. The expert panel, led by Malcolm McCusker QC, is essential for framing the legislation to best suit and safely serve the needs of the Western Australian community. I thank all the panel members for agreeing to assist with developing this important body of work.”
The panel of 13 members was comprised of leading health professionals, health consumers and legal experts.
- Malcolm McCusker QC – Queen’s Counsel and former Governor of Western Australia.
- Dr Penny Flett AO – Retired medical practitioner. Former CEO of Brightwater and former chairperson of the WA Aged Care Advisory Council.
- Dr Scott Blackwell – General practitioner with expertise in palliative care and aged care. Former president of the AMA. Life member of RACGPs.
- Dr Roger Hunt – Senior consultant, Central Adelaide Palliative Care. Academic who is widely published in the areas of ethics, law and palliative care.
- Associate Professor Kirsten Auret – Associate Professor of rural and remote medicine and deputy director, Rural Clinical School of WA. Palliative care specialist and Adjunct Professor of Curtin University and Notre Dame University.
- Dr Elissa Campbell – President of Palliative Care WA, consultant geriatrician and palliative care specialist.
- Dr Simon Towler – Clinical lead at South Metro Health Service Futures program, staff Specialist Intensive Care, Fiona Stanley Hospital and former Chief Medical Officer, Western Australia.
- Kate George – Company director and senior lawyer specialising in human rights, international law and indigenous matters.
- Fiona Seaward – Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia and Senior Assistant State Counsel for the State Solicitor’s Office.
- Noreen Fynn – Consumer representative with 30 years of experience in Western Australia in the carer, disability, aged care and mental health sectors – community and government organisations, State and Federal level.
- Samantha Jenkinson – Executive director of peopleWithdisabilities (pWd) WA and former acting CEO of Australian Federation of Disability organisations, a senior advocate and advisor to government in relation to disability.
- Kirsten Auret - Associate Professor Kirsten Auret is Deputy Director of the Rural Clinical School of WA and an Associate Professor of rural and remote medicine. She is a palliative care specialist and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University and Notre Dame University.
- Phillip Della - Professor Phillip Della is the head of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine at Curtin University and the former Chief Nurse of Western Australia.
Recommendations of the Expert Panel
On Thursday 27 June 2019 the Ministerial Expert Panel handed down its report making recommendations on a number of specific elements which the Panel considered should be included in the proposed legislation for voluntary assisted dying.
In making the recommendations, the Panel acknowledged the 'crucial importance of ensuring that there are strong safeguards in the legislation' but at the same time they had been 'mindful, for compassionate and humane reasons, of not placing so many obstacles in the chosen path of people to access voluntary assisted dying, that it becomes unnecessarily too difficult, and their suffering is prolonged.'
The 13-member panel had consulted widely to seek the views of WA's diverse community, special interest groups and experts. From 19 March 2019 to 24 May 2019, the Panel heard from 867 participants through public forums, roundtables and other meetings and received 541 written submissions (online, email and mail). In addition to the local consultations, the Panel reviewed a broad range of relevant research, both in Australia and overseas. It also held discussions with an expert and experienced practitioner from Oregon as well as experts from Canada.
In the introduction of the Report, Malcolm McCusker acknowledged that the Victorian Act, and Victoria’s experience in the implementation period, had been very helpful to the Panel, serving as a useful guide or template. However, he also pointed out that the Panel had been mindful of differences between Western Australia and Victoria.
"In particular, the much larger geographical area of Western Australia, its smaller population, and the great diversity, cultural and linguistic, that is a singular feature of this State. As appears from this Report, the Panel has taken those considerations into account in making recommendations appropriate for Western Australia," said Mr McCusker.
The 31 recommendations of the Panel will now be considered by Government and approved elements will be included in the legislation to be developed for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia. This legislation is due to be tabled in Parliament in the second half of 2019.
Some of the key recommendations are listed below or you can access the full Final Report here.
To access voluntary assisted dying a person must meet all of the following eligibility criteria:
- be an adult, aged 18 years or over; and,
- be an Australian citizen or permanent resident and have been ordinarily resident in Western Australia for 12 months at the time of making the request; and,
- have decision-making capacity in relation to a decision about voluntary assisted dying; and,
- be diagnosed with an eligible condition, where an eligible condition is an illness, disease or medical condition that:
- is advanced, progressive and will cause death; and,
- is causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable; and,
- death is reasonably foreseeable for the person within a period of 12 months.
Many VAD laws including the Victorian Act, require that assessment of a person’s capacity and eligible condition be made by two medical practitioners, independently of each other. The Panel has adopted that safeguard, however, having regard to the scarcity of medical practitioners in many country districts and towns of Western Australia, the Panel decided to recommend that the second (consulting) practitioner may be a qualified nurse practitioner.
If a voluntary assisted dying law is 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.
DOES YOUR MP SUPPORT VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING?
At this stage in the campaign, your local MP may still be unsure as to whether or not they will support the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill. However, it is not too early to ask them if they support the principle of dying with dignity and assisted dying legislation as recommended by the Committee and the Expert Panel. If MPs start hearing from supporters, like you, especially if you have a personal experience to share, the more likely they are to consider this issue seriously and hopefully speak for the constituents they represent.
Personal letters to local members of Parliament
We believe the best method to persuade WA MPs to support an assisted dying bill are handwritten letters from constituents. MPs are answerable to their electorates and we must let them know how we feel on this issue. Please be sure to use a respectful tone whilst explaining the reasons why you support the assisted dying. Personal stories are very powerful.
Request a meeting with your local members of Parliament
You may also consider requesting a meeting with your local MP to discuss the issue of assisted dying and tell them your personal story.
Write to your local newspaper
Help us spread the word by contacting your local newspaper and asking them to write a story on voluntary assisted dying. You can always write letters to the editor on the issue. We know local MP's take an interest in what is reported in local newspapers, so this is another way to influence them.
Donate to DWDWA
This is the most important time in the history of DWDWA. The Parliamentary Inquiry into End of Life Choices has now recommended the introduction of assisted dying legislation and we need to build up our resources ready to campaign effectively when the VAD Bill is introduced. All donations, no matter how small, are very welcome.
To make a donation, please use one of the payment methods listed below.
- The easiest way to donate is via the Donate page on this website;
- Alternatively, you can do an electronic funds transfer to: DWDWA - BSB: 306-188, Account number: 0258370. Please include your name when depositing and email email@example.com with your contact details if your require a receipt; or
- Mail a cheque to: Dying With Dignity WA (Inc), PO Box 7243, Cloisters Square, Perth WA 6850
Donations over $2 are tax deductible.
For further information on how you can get involved in the campaign click below -