On Monday 12 November 2018, the Western Australian Government announced that it will introduce a Bill into State Parliament next year to legalise voluntary assisted dying.
The decision comes 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.
“The introduction of a voluntary assisted dying Bill will provide those individuals who are experiencing grievous and irremediable suffering associated with advanced and progressive terminal conditions with an additional choice,” he said.
The Bill will be drafted in consultation with a panel of experts 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 11 members is 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.
Dying with Dignity WA welcomed the State Government’s announcement.
“We wholeheartedly commend the appointment of Malcolm McCusker QC as the Chair of the Expert Panel and we fully endorse the appointed panel members who are held in high esteem by the health and legal professions," said Steve Walker, President of Dying with Dignity WA.
“We especially acknowledge the appointment of Noreen Fynn whose personal story and drive for compassion is truly admirable.”
Dying with Dignity WA also thanked the State Government for confirming its intention to introduce a Government bill in 2019.
“We look forward to a comprehensive and respectable debate and extend our hand to anyone in State Parliament who would like to talk about this significant issue.
“Many of us have been campaigning for legislative change since the 1980s and we believe protecting people’s right to freedom of choice has been a long time coming.
“We know the community overwhelmingly support this important reform,” Mr Walker said.
On Saturday 17 November 2018, The West Australian released the results of a poll conducted exclusively for The Weekend West. The poll revealed that 86 per cent of people want assisted dying made legal in WA, so if WA politicians oppose the voluntary assisted dying bill, when it is introduced next year, they will be out of touch with community views.
The result was even higher for those aged between 50 and 59, with ninety per cent saying they were in favour of the legislation.
According to the report in The Weekend West, the legislation is expected to pass the Lower House without much resistance; however, in the upper house the numbers are tighter.