Western Australia is on the brink of becoming the second state in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying, with its upper house last week passing the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019 (WA).
A total of 55 amendments to the initial version of the bill were passed. The bill will return to the lower house this week to review the amendments.
If these amendments are ratified as expected, WA will follow the historic introduction of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria, where the option has been available since June 2019.
WA Premier Mark McGowan announced the government’s voluntary assisted dying bill in August 2019.
The proposed legislation was developed after recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry into end of life choices, and subsequent ministerial expert panel on voluntary assisted dying.
Debate in the upper house was also extensive, and hundreds of amendments to the bill were proposed. A total of 55 amendments were eventually included, and the bill passed the upper house last night by 24 votes to 11.
What does the proposed legislation permit?
The initial version of the bill featured 102 “safeguards”, including the regulation of access, the request and assessment process, administration and management of the voluntary assisted dying substance, mandatory reporting, protections for health practitioners, and oversight mechanisms.
As outlined in the proposed legislation, to access voluntary assisted dying in WA a person would need to:
- be aged 18 years or more, and
- have lived in WA for at least 12 months, and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and
- have the capacity to make decisions about voluntary assisted dying, and
- be acting voluntarily and without coercion.
The person would also need to be diagnosed with a disease, illness, or medical condition that is:
- advanced and progressive, and anticipated to cause death, and
- anticipated to cause death within no more than six months, or no more than 12 months for those with a neurodegenerative diagnosis, and
- causing suffering to the person that cannot be relieved in a way the person considers tolerable.
A person would not be eligible to access voluntary assisted dying only because they have a disability or are diagnosed with a mental illness.
Protections for health practitioners include provisions for “conscientious objection”. They would have the right to refuse to participate in the request and assessment process, and to participate in the prescription, supply, or administration of the voluntary assisted dying substance, including being present when it is administered.
Most of the amendments passed by the upper house will not substantively change the eligibility criteria or process to access voluntary assisted dying from the model initially proposed.
What happens next?
In a special sitting this week, the WA lower house will vote on each of the amendments. Given support for the legislation in the lower house already, it is anticipated the amendments will be ratified.
If the bill passes as expected, it will be about 18 months until the law comes into effect in WA.
Following a similar process to Victoria, there will be an “implementation period”. This will allow time to develop resources for health services, health practitioners, and community members, and for training.
WA will also establish a Voluntary Assisted Dying Board, an independent statutory body to oversee voluntary assisted dying.
Overall, health services and health practitioners in WA, including those who choose not to participate, will need to prepare for the state’s introduction of voluntary assisted dying.
Courtney Hempton receives funding from the Australian Government (Research Training Program Scholarship) and the Australian Research Council. She has previously been affiliated with the Monash Health Voluntary Assisted Dying Working Group and Voluntary Assisted Dying Steering Committee.