VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING LEGISLATION
Voluntary assisted dying was briefly permitted in the Northern Territory (1996) before the law was repealed by the Federal Government in 1997. Over the past two decades, since the Northern Territory law was overturned, there have been over thirty attempts to pass another assisted dying law. All of those attempts failed up until November 2017, when the Victorian Parliament made history by becoming the first Australian state to pass the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017.
In 2018 voluntary assisted dying, or voluntary euthanasia, is permitted in 16 jurisdictions around the world. It is legal in Switzerland (Criminal Code 1942), The Netherlands (2002), Belgium (2002), Luxembourg (2009), Germany (2015), Colombia (2015 Court Decision), Canada (2016), Australia (Victoria only 2017) and in 8 jurisdictions in the US including Oregon (1997), Washington (2009), Montana (2010 Court Decision), Vermont (2013), California (2016), Colorado (2016), Washington DC (2016) and Hawaii (2018).
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS, METHODS OF ADMINISTRATION AND LEGAL FRAMEWORKS
There are differences between the various laws in regard to the eligibility criteria, the method of administration of the lethal medication and the legal framework, or process.
The American laws (on which the Australian laws are based) are considered the most restrictive, because the individual has to be suffering from a terminal illness, with less than 6 months to live, whereas the European laws do not restrict access based on a terminal illness. In Europe, the eligibility and safeguards are based on a model requiring ‘due care’ on the part of the doctor assisting a patient to die and the patient must be experiencing ‘unbearable and irremediable suffering’ to qualify.
The American laws require self-administration only, whereas under the European and Canadian models, both voluntary assisted dying and voluntary euthanasia are permitted.
It would take up too much room to provide a detailed comparison of the legal frameworks, safeguards and procedures involved in the various assisted dying models around the world. However, according to the Victorian Committee, which travelled to many of these jurisdictions, although the models differ, ‘what they all have in common is robust regulatory frameworks that focus on transparency, patient-centred care and choice.’ The Committee found no evidence of institutional corrosion or the often cited ‘slippery slope’.
Details of the proposed Western Australian Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill have yet to be drafted, however, it is likely that the WA VAD law will be similar to the American and Victorian laws.
If the WA Bill follows the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee:
- The eligibility requirement would include that 'the person is experiencing grievous and irremediable suffering related to an advanced and progressive terminal, chronic or neurodegenerative condition that cannot be alleviated in a manner acceptable to the person;
- Death be reasonably foreseeable as a consequence of the condition;
- The individual must have decision-making capacity at the time of their request in order to be eligible for voluntary assisted dying; and
- The person wishing to access voluntary assisted dying in Western Australia must either be a citizen or permanent resident of Australia ordinarily resident in Western Australia, as defined by the expert panel.