This page provided information about the progress of the campaign to legalise voluntary assisted dying in WA. It covers the period from August 2017 when the Joint Select Committee was established until the law was passed in December 2019. It was updated regularly so it now provides an overview of that campaign. For the latest news about progress in WA, and campaigns in other states, please visit the NEWS Page here.
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 took place in late 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 were to be considered by the Government and approved elements included in the legislation for voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia.
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.
Unite for Compassion event
On Saturday 29 June 2019 to celebrate the release of the recommendations of the Ministerial Expert Panel (MEP), Dying with Dignity WA held a Unite for Compassion event.
Dying with Dignity's president, Steve Walker opened the event welcoming not only the three speakers but also special guests including DWDWA patron Janet Holmes a Court, Joey Armenti from Go Gentle Australia, Dr Alida Lancee representing Doctors for Assisted Dying Choice, Noreen Fynn a member of the MEP and MEP Chair, Malcolm McCusker QC. To read more about this event visit the Unite For Compassion news item.
Belinda's Brave Walk
On Tuesday 6 August 2019 hundreds of supporters, including former cricketer Adam Gilchrist and high-profile assisted dying advocate, Andrew Denton, joined Belinda Teh for the final 1 km walk from Kings Park to Parliament House. There she was greeted by even more supporters, including the Premier Mark McGowan, the Health Minister Roger Cook, other members of the parliament as well as a media frenzy.
Belinda Teh is the young Perth woman who decided to walk from the steps of the Victorian Parliament to the steps of the WA Parliament to encourage WA politicians to vote for the voluntary assisted dying law. To read more about this event visit the Belinda's Final Steps news item.
High profile supporters
As the campaign to legalise voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia progressed a number of high profile supporters spoke up in favour of this compassionate, end-of-life choice. You can read their statements of support here.
Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 Introduced
On Tuesday 6 August 2019, the same day that Belinda Teh completed her 'brave walk' from Melbourne to Perth, the McGowan Government released details of its much anticipated Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill.
Speaking from the steps of Parliament House, the Premier Mark McGowan told hundreds of supporters that these laws are about showing kindness and compassion to those West Australians who are in their last weeks, days or months of life.
"It's about ensuring that those people who choose not to suffer an agonising death can make that choice. It is the ultimate act of personal choice, it is the ultimate act of kindness and compassion and it allows an individual themselves to make that choice in relation to their own life," said the Premier.
He acknowledged that there are thousands, or probably hundreds of thousands of people in our community who have seen loved ones die in awful circumstances.
"We want to ensure that those families and those people can avoid that painful end that is avoidable, if they choose to do so," he said.
With more than 100 safeguards the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill is more conservative than expected; however, DWDWA believes this bill strikes the right note and will have broad political support, which is critical for the passage of the bill through the parliament.
Largely based on the Victorian model, the proposed law would allow an individual with a terminal illness and less than six months to live, to legally end their lives.
Who would be eligible to end their life?
The WA bill makes it very clear that voluntary assisted dying would only be available to a person who is:
- 18 years of age or older and has decision-making capacity in relation to voluntary assisted dying
- Terminally ill with a condition that is causing intolerable suffering
- Likely to die within six months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative conditions
- An Australian citizen or permanent resident
- A WA resident for at least 12 months
How would it work?
To access the regime, an eligible person would have to make three requests to die — two verbal and one written.
Those requests would have to be signed off by two doctors who are independent of each other.
There would be a minimum of nine days between the initial request and final approval.
A patient could administer the lethal drug themselves or choose for a medical or nurse practitioner to do it for them.
A Voluntary Assisted Dying Board would ensure the law was being properly followed through each step of the process.
New criminal offences would also be introduced to prevent patients from being coerced into accessing the regime.
Dying with Dignity WA welcomed the legislation. It is a result of extensive consultation with the community and stakeholders and we congratulate the Government on its thorough process and progress on these important laws.
"We believe this bill to legalise the option of voluntary assisted dying for people who are suffering at the end of life, provides a safe and compassionate framework with appropriate safeguards for patients and the doctors," said Steve Walker, President of DWDWA.
"The most important thing now is that debate on this legislation is open and respectful," he said.
Members of Parliament will be given a conscience vote, which means they can vote according to their own personal conscience instead of along party lines.
"We trust that Members of Parliament, no matter their political persuasion, voting on this important legislation will reflect the views of the community and legislate for a safe and compassionate voluntary assisted dying law," said Mr Walker.
All 59 members of the Legislative Assembly and 36 members of the Legislative Council will be able to have their say on this bill so that process is expected to take until the end of the year.
Like in Victoria, if the bill does pass, the voluntary assisted dying law would not come into effect for another 18 months.
You can view The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 here.
Debate of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019
On Wednesday 28 August 2019 Premier Mark McGowan began the debate in the Legislative Assembly with his Second Reading speech with a plea to MPs to end the pain and suffering endured by many people at the end of their lives. He said the legislation had been years in the making and the issue needed to be resolved.
"It is not a choice between life and death. It is a choice about the manner in which death will occur," he said.
He went on to tell the Parliament that inaction had consequences.
"Staying with the status quo has a cost," he said.
"How many more West Australians need to witness their loved ones suffer without relief? How many more family members need to come home to discover the person they loved and are caring for has ended their own life horribly and painfully?"
The Western Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 is largely based on the Victorian model that was passed in November 2017 and came into effect on 19 June 2019.
Under the proposed WA legislation, a person would have to be terminally ill with a condition that is causing intolerable suffering and is likely to cause death within six months or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition.
You can view The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 here.
Although the Premier Mark McGowan and the National Party leader Mia Davies both support the Bill, the Liberal leader Liza Harvey has yet to declare her support. During her speech Ms Harvey broke down several times as she recounted the personal story of her late husband Hal's death from pancreatic cancer in 2014. During her speech she also raised her concerns over aspects of the proposed law.
Support came from both sides
The Opposition's health spokesman Zak Kirkup, who was the Liberals' lead speaker, said he would support the Bill. During his speech he revealed that he had consulted 9,580 constituents representing over 51 per cent of his electorate finding that over 83 per cent supported the proposed legislation.
Liberal MLA John McGrath said that the assisted dying law would benefit not just his electorate but West Australians around the state. He also believes very firmly that "politics should not get in the way."
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.
Rally for Choice
On Tuesday 3 September 2019 members of parliament, from across the political spectrum, joined hundreds of supporters rallying outside Parliament House before the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 faced its first major hurdle. To read more about this event visit the Rally for Choice news item.
Following the rally, members of the lower house returned to the Legislative Assembly chamber to hear the final speeches before a vote was taken to move the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 to the next stage of the debate. It was late in the night but the result was decisive with 44 MPs out of 59 supporting the legislation and only 12 opposed.
This was the first of many votes that this Bill will face over the coming months before it can become law, however, the result of the first vote was certainly cause for celebration.
On Thursday 19 September 2019 the Legislative Assembly (lower house) concluded the 'consideration in detail' stage of the debate. Within the next week the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 will face the Third Reading vote before progressing to the Legislative Council (upper house) where the process is repeated.
Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 passes in the lower house
On Tuesday 24 September 2019 the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill easily passed Western Australia's lower house without amendments. The Bill will now head to the upper house of parliament where it is expected to face a much tougher passage.
Health Minister Roger Cook has not ruled out the idea of accepting that amendment in the Upper House.
“As the passage of this historic legislation moves to the Upper House the Government will consider all contributions and speeches made by elected members in the Lower House,” he said. “I encourage all members of the Legislative Council to undertake their review of this bill respectfully, taking into account the strong desire of the community to support the bill.”
"Today we took a significant step forward to giving Western Australians with a life-limiting or terminal illness the dignity they deserve at the end of their lives," he said.
"I'm pleased the Legislative Assembly considered the legislation in a compassionate and respectful manner."
The Bill heads to the upper house
The Bill now moves into the Legislative Council where the vote will be much closer and the debate long and intense.
Opponents of voluntary assisted dying will be moving significant amendments to make the Bill unworkable and inaccessible to the people who need it most. They will also do everything they can to delay the final vote on this Bill by the end of the year.
Even with the majority of Members of Parliament in the Legislative Assembly supporting the Bill, the debate was dominated by its opponents.
We would like to give you a flavour of the debate. Click here to read extracts from the LA debate.
- Over an hour was spent arguing that the name of the Bill should be changed to reference euthanasia;
- Opponents failed to acknowledge that people who will seek to access voluntary assisted dying are terminally ill and at the end of their lives;
- There was a constant theme of distrust of medical professionals;
- Opponents argued for restrictions to limit who a terminally ill person can nominate as their contact person throughout the voluntary assisted dying process;
- It was argued that every person who accesses voluntary assisted dying should be autopsied and that every VAD death should be referred to the coroner automatically;
- Outlandish questions were asked about how a person might choose to self-administer the medication.
Overall the debate was respectful but there were a number of repetitive questions and many extreme claims about possible risks, such as doctor shopping and coercion.The Minister for Health and Premier emphasised the careful drafting of the Bill that balances compassion with strong eligibility criteria, and safeguards with accessibility. Every risk raised by the opponents already exists without legalised voluntary assisted dying and will be dramatically reduced by a law with safeguards, scrutiny and accountability built into it.
Click here to read extracts from the LA debate.
DWDWA will be monitoring the debate in the Legislative Council, sending our supporters regular updates and asking you to take action to help us continue showing Members of the Legislative Council the level of community support that exists, and who the people who support voluntary assisted dying are.
The Bill passes the Second Reading vote in the upper house
On Wednesday 23 October 2019 the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill passed one of its biggest hurdles after the Upper House voted 25 to 10 in favour of the Bill at the Second Reading.
There were hugs and tears in the public gallery as supporters realised that the support in the Legislative Council was stronger than expected. Immediately following the vote the debate moved to the Committee of the Whole stage, in which the Bill is discussed clause by clause and proposed amendments considered and voted on.
While the VAD Bill passed through the Lower House without amendments, the Government is expecting a more difficult passage in the Legislative Council. A number of Upper House MPs who agreed to support the legislation at the second reading vote have indicated that their support in the final vote will depend on certain amendments. With 184 clauses in total this will be a very long and tedious process.
In the lead up to the Second Reading vote members of the Expert Panel reached out to MPs to clarify misunderstanding regarding the legislation.
Chairman of the ministerial expert panel on voluntary assisted dying, former WA governor Malcolm McCusker and former Australian Medical Association of WA president Simon Towler wrote to MPs explaining why they object to proposed amendments that have been suggested by opponents such as the WA AMA.
“With the greatest respect to those who have made them, in our opinion those amendments are undesirable,” the letter said.
“We respectfully offer you some information about the background and reasoning which led to the recommendations in the panel’s report, in the hope that it may assist you in your deliberations, and clear away any misconceptions.”
In another open letter, just prior to the vote, WA’s top neurologists implored MPs to pass assisted dying laws, saying patients suffering from motor neurone disease are being forced to end their lives through starvation or suicide.
The doctors, who care for about 90 per cent of patients with MND in WA, say about five to 10 per cent of their patients would like to have the choice of assisted dying and most people wanting access to assisted dying are “competent, well- informed and not depressed”.
“Currently (patients) only have the options of suicide (which we counsel against) or voluntary starvation and dehydration, which can be an uncomfortable death over 14-21 days even with palliative care support,” the letter says.
Although the debate continued straight after the Second Reading vote, by the end of Thursday the Upper House had not even passed Clause 1 of the 184 clauses. Although it is going to be a very long process, supporters should now be able to feel quietly confident because it would take eight WA MLCs to change their vote before the third reading for the legislation to fail.
The Bill passes the upper house
On Thursday 5 December 2019 the WA Legislative Council passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill by 24 votes to 11. The third reading stage progressed more quickly than anticipated with only 21 MPs taking their final opportunity to speak. Supporters of the legislation viewing from the public gallery embraced and clapped as the final vote was declared, realising it would only be a matter of days before their campaign goal was achieved.
The final vote came after almost 102 hours of debate in the upper house and after 55 amendments had been made to the Bill, which had previously passed in the Legislative Assembly without amendments by 45 votes to 11. The amendments will need to be signed off in the lower house, which will be recalled for a special sitting on Tuesday 10 December. It is considered to be a formality, given the Labor government's control of the Legislative Assembly.
Voluntary Assisted Dying Law passes in Western Australia
On Tuesday 10 December 2019 the Government's Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill cleared its final parliamentary hurdle making Western Australian the second state after Victoria to legalise voluntary assisted dying for the terminally ill.
It took five hours for the Legislative Assembly to work its way through all 55 upper house amendments but all were passed unopposed. The bill passed just after 6pm bringing to an end a long and emotionally challenging parliamentary debate that ran for more than 180 hours in total.
Health Minister Roger Cook, who oversaw the bill's introduction and was congratulated by MPs on both sides for his handling of the process, choked back tears as he welcomed the passing of the legislation.
"We are at the end of a very long process, a momentous process for the West Australian parliament and West Australian public," he told the chamber.
"It's not a time for jubilation. Everyone knows what this legislation is about. It's about reflection. And to reflect that we've chosen compassion and the right to choose."
The Premier Mark McGowan said it was a significant moment for Western Australia.
"This Parliament rose to the occasion. We've had the hard conversations with our electorates and with each other and with ourselves."
“In this parliament, we have big hearts, and we are willing to take political risks to do the right thing,” he said.
“We should all be very proud of that.”
There will now be an 18 month implementation period but from mid 2021 terminally ill adults living in Western Australia who are experiencing intolerable suffering and likely to have less than six months to live - or one year if they have a neurodegenerative condition - will be able to take a drug to end their lives if approved by two medical practitioners.
Amber Jade Sanderson MLC, Health Minister, Roger Cook and Premier Mark McGowan
How Western Australians were encouraged to get involved
Western Australians were encouraged to "get involved throughout the campaign. This grassroots community campaign involved contacting local MPs, sending letters to editors, volunteering on community stalls and much more. The information on the "Get Involved" page has been left on the website as an archive so other states who have yet to debate their own VAD Bills can see the benefit of a grassroots campaign.