Voluntary Assisted Dying 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.